April 9, 2008

Polenta Gratin with Bison and Mushroom Bolognese

I’m sorry, but this is not seasonally correct. And the pictures majorly suck. It’s supposed to be with wild mushrooms, but I used some dried morels (reconstituted first) and your run-of-the-mill-grocery-store-button-mushrooms, because it’s obviously not the season for fresh wild mushrooms. And polenta, to me, has always been associated with snowstorms, flannel, and re-runs of “Bones”. And bison – if ever there was an animal that just LOOKS like winter, it’s the woolly bison. Hanging around Old Faithful, breathing steam out their great heads, and giving me a look like, “I will gore you, girlie, if you take more step toward me.”

So don’t go all farmer’s market on me, ok??? I just needed some hearty fare, something that smelled this good, and would involve a hot skillet, a steamy pot, and some baking with cheese. I love all the spring recipes going around the bloggy world, but it’s still cold around here, and nothing much looks green and juicy. And, well, standing at the meat counter, looking at that package of organic, hormone free (it’s against the LAW in the US to even THINK about putting hormones into bison…maybe it’s because they have enough testosterone…), I just wanted some buffalo. And did I mention the pictures are horrid? That’s what you get when you get all close-upy on some meat and corn mush!

And this is Tom Colicchio’s recipe. From a book by some guy interviewing chefs about what their moms and grandmas would make for them. I found this at epicurious.com and did very little change with the exception of the addition of bison and messin’ with the mushrooms. This is what Tom’s grandmother would make. I like Tom. He’s wildly attractive (well, to me, at least…I like a guy with a shiny head!), and even though I want to strangle most of those Top Chef people, I think he’s a pretty good judge. I love his expressions when he asks those bozos if they’re “really going to do that?” It’s like he just saw them shoot heroin in their eye.

Polenta Gratin with Bison and Mushroom Bolognese

Serves 4

For the Bolognese Sauce:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound fresh ground bison
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, peeled and diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
8-12 ounces mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup chicken stock

For the Polenta:
Kosher salt
1 cup polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

1. To prepare the sauce: heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it moves easily across the pan. Add the bison meat, breaking up with a spoon and cooking until meat is beginning to brown. Remove with slotted spoon to plate and cover to keep warm.
Add the onion, carrot, celery, salt, and pepper to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms and thyme leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushroom are almost tender, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato, cook about 2 minutes more, then add the stock, 2 tablespoons at a time, bringing the pan to a simmer before each addition. Add the bison meat back into pan, and simmer the Bolognese until it is concentrated but not yet dry, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. To make the polenta: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.
Add a pinch of salt and gradually whisk in the polenta. Stirring constantly, bring the polenta to a boil, then adjust the heat to low. Cook the polenta, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer grainy, about 30 minutes. Whisk the oil and salt to taste into the polenta and remove it from heat.
3. Assemble the gratin: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon half the polenta into a medium baking dish (an 11 inch oval dish works well) and cover with half of the sauce. Spoon in the remaining polenta, spread it evenly, then sprinkle with the cheese. Transfer the remaining sauce to a small saucepan and reserve.
4. Bake the gratin until the top is golden, about 40 minutes. Just before serving, warm the reserved sauce over low heat. Divide the gratin and sauce among 4 plates, and top with sauce, and serve.

My Very Important Notes, so pay attention:
1. Too much olive oil in polenta – use about half of the recipe amount
2. Too many mushrooms with the meat that I added – if you do meat, half the mushrooms
3. Use more cheese. Always more cheese.


Peter M said...

To be fair to the Top Chef contestants, I'd like to see the judges come with "something" decent in these rapid fire challenges.

As for the dish, I'm won over by bison and as for morels...aren't they in season in the Spring?

Jenny said...

Great post Catherine,
I think your dish looks superb, Colichio would be proud! I think he is handsome too, there's something about a chef makes them more attractive. I'm freaked out about using bison or any beef other than cow. I'm a sheltered city girl, but I bet I'd like it! I love the wooly bison picture, I'd pass out if I came face to face with one of those!

Birdie said...

We always get bison when we are out west but I can never find it here in Florida. The polenta looks really good. Next time we are fly fishing the firehole this one looks like it would be great to serve!

RecipeGirl said...

Looks good to me- I've been wanting to try bison.

I was recently looking through a very old issue of Fine Cooking and saw a pic of Tom C. with a receding hairline (hair on just the sides of his head.) It was a good call for him to shave it all off. It looks much better!!

Deborah said...

I've never had bison before. And I'm sure that I couldn't find it here, seeing that even lamb is hard to come by...

But it does sound delicious! And I love Tom!

toni said...

OMG, girl, I just laughed myself silly reading this post! I'm ready to charge out and get me some bison!

Emiline said...

Who DOESN'T love a shiny head? I mean, come one.

I think your pictures are fine. Polenta and meat just aren't very photogenic. But they sure taste good. Am I right?

I've never had bison. It sounds like you eat it often.

Catherine Wilkinson said...

Oh, I'm being cranky about those TC people...I agree with you...! Don't be mad at me! And morels...I thought only fall? At least the very few I see here, in the mountains, are in fall.

Bison is soooo good and so healthy.
Try it sometime! It needs just a smidget of fat, because it's so lean. And elk! You just wait until I get an elk this fall...I'll give you some meat!

you know, the polenta was tasty, but there are better recipes, I think. I make one that Mark Miller makes, with cheese and cream! Wow!

I agree! Just shave it off! Looks much better. Those guys with the combovers, etc...bleck

you probably could order it online, but it would be expensive. I think it's going to be more mainstream soon...it's really delicious.

Just be careful of his horns!

Not too often...it's still expensive and hard to find, but it's very delicious...grassfed bovines are the best.

Cate said...

OK, I'm not so hot on the bison, but love, love, love Tom Colicchio.

Zen Chef said...

You like men with shiny heads? hehehe. You got me giggling!

Heather said...

I would eat the shit out of that. I actually was planning on making some polenta tonight too! But with some skirt steak I [icked up from the carniceria.

Heather said...

Also, I think Colichio is a stone cold fox.

BJN said...

I just saw Bison meat at my local Krogers here in a small town in SE Indiana. Also morels are in season in the midwest (OK,WY,IN,MI at least) in the spring.

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"The Dish" by Catherine Wilkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.