What pasta is to the south of Italy, polenta is to the north. Traditionally, polenta is a winter food, but it makes great summer eating as a rich base for simply cooked vegetables such as steamed asparagus or grilled zucchini. This recipe for soft polenta is very simple, but it's the earthy-flavoured mushrooms that will keep you making it again and again.
250ml milk plus 100ml extra if needed
1/2 cup fine corn polenta
50g pecorino, grated
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
6 large mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tbsp lemon thyme, chopped
30g pecorino, shaved
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and water to the boil, pour in the polenta and stir continuously until it thickens, about 10-20 minutes. When cooked - it should be thick but still soft, like porridge - add grated pecorino and one tablespoon of butter then mix until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. The polenta should be soft and creamy and only just hold its shape - add a little extra milk if it becomes too stiff.
3. Add olive oil and one tablespoon of butter to a large non-stick fry pan over a medium heat. When the butter starts bubbling, add the garlic and mushrooms and cook briefly until golden and just done.
4. Mix the thyme through the mushrooms and season. You may need to add another tablespoon of butter to keep the mushrooms moist.
5. Pour the polenta into a serving dish, top with the mushrooms and pecorino shavings and serve.
Tip: Any leftover polenta can be used as the base of a main course topped with fish or grilled meat. It also makes an excellent crispy crust for fish and I even add a small amount to my pizza dough, which gives it added flavour.