Morel Polenta Tartlets

A lot of great things have happened over the past few months and our new little guy Xander has kept me very busy.  Now that I am better adjusted to motherhood I am back and ready to write.

To my delight, I found myself in Portland Oregon (somewhat) recently for a work dinner. I had heard so much about the farmer’s market and how beautiful it was, so it was my first priority and our first stop for grocery shopping.  Mountains of mushrooms-morels, hen of the woods, shitakes and low and behold truffles! Yes, Oregon is now growing truffles- super affordable ones too. I went straight for the morels, selecting the smallest ones for the mini polenta cakes with a morel gravy that I was serving as an hors d’oeurves course.

There were so many other highlights-the rhubarb was piled high streaked with a deep magenta, and hazelnuts-my new favorite nut. We were in hazelnut heaven it turns out. Freddie Guy is at the market and I scored some hazelnut oil as well as bags of beautiful pre-blanched crunchy hazelnuts. (You can order them online, which I will be doing in the near future)

There were other Portland highlights beyond the farmer’s market. We stayed at the Ace Hotel, which was just lovely. Even though it’s a hotel, you get such a local flavor there. It’s conveniently situated around some local shops, great for browsing. Swedish Clog Masters is a quick walk away. I stopped to get fitted for some new gold clogs I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I had to wait and see if my shoe size would change once I had Xander.

Stumptown coffee roasters are adjacent to the hotel, you can even satisfy your photo booth cravings, there’s one in the lobby, and if you would like to order room service, that too can be arranged from the restaurant next door.

Breakfast at the Ace is also a highlight in a room on the second floor. A beautiful spread of local jams, baked goods, charcuterie, cheeses, coffee and fresh squeezed juices. Plus an informative man we met there who orchestrates everything and gave us the low down on the most worthwhile edible destinations around town.

He recommended what came to be our favorite Portland restaurant, more like a bar counter, called EVOE, situated within Pasta Works, an Italian centric grocery and specialty market.  My favorite dish there was a special that day, “Simple Pleasures” soup. A light, free -range chicken broth studded with Asparagus, Morels and Mustard Green Flowers. It was heaven!

I came to realize that Portland is also home to an outstanding array of food trucks and food pods (several food trucks together). One of the most acclaimed food trucks Pok Pok, which we tried originated as a food truck and has since taken residence as a food truck with tables around it, more like a full on restaurant now. The cocktails are not to be missed- outstanding!  I had the Salty Plum Vodka Collins, Umeboshi plums drenched in Vodka-yum! The Thai food there is pretty delicious too, although I have to say my favorite Thai food is still the restaurant we ate at at least once a week growing up-Siam café in Chicago.

There were a couple of noteworthy trucks, for delicious sandwiches LARDO and the ice cream at Fifty Licks is a winner. We had a scoop of maple bacon, with flecks of chewy crispy salty bacon in a sweet creamy base. That was enough pork for a while.

To take a break from all of our indulging, we visited the rose garden, which unfortunately was not blooming yet, but still lovely, perched up on a hill surrounded by other beautiful gardens. We went a little further up the hill and visited the Japanese Zen Garden. Having just come out of grey, cold, New York City winter, the green was all I needed for a little Spring in my step.It took me a little while to get to this post, so long that it might be hard to come by Morels this year. This recipe is just as great with other mushrooms available at your local markets. Great for nibbling on before dinner when you’re entertaining, or you can make larger portions and serve as a main course.

Polenta Tartlets

Ingredients:

1-cup medium grain polenta

2-½ cups water

1 ½ t sea salt

2T butter or olive oil

 

For the mushrooms:

2 cups morel mushrooms (you can use your favorite kind of mushrooms)

2 shallots (or leeks-whites only), finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup cold water

1-tablespoon arrowroot

3 glugs white wine

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

2 teaspoons thyme, finely chopped

Ground Pepper

Preheat broiler.

Directions:

1) In a one-quart heavy bottomed pan, boil 2 ½ cups water with 1 ½ t salt.

When it begins to boil, add 1-cup cornmeal and simmer, whisking constantly.

Cook for about 10 minutes.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, spread the polenta about 1/3 inch thick.

2) In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft. Then add the mushrooms and sea salt. Sauté and then add the wine to deglaze the pan. Then add the water and arrowroot. Turn heat on high until the liquid is reduced by about half.

3) Once the polenta is cool, use a small circular cookie cutter to make little bites. Brush circles with olive oil. Place under broiler for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Prepare the vegetable topping.

4) Stir thyme into the mushroom topping and sprinkle black pepper to taste. Remove polenta from oven. Top each of the polenta circles with mushroom mixture and serve immediately.

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