Friday, February 4, 2011

Scott Conant's Creamy [Quinoa] Polenta with a Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms

Ever since that night in December at Scarpetta, I've adopted a particular interest in Scott Conant's food. With New Italian Cooking on its way, I sat in bed Monday night, reading Bold Italian. At some point, I came across a few pages featuring different types of polenta. I was reminded of the creamy, irresistible texture and flavor of the Creamy Polenta with a Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms. My late-night appetite rose to a dangerous level and I struggled to resist a fourth meal.

My efforts to end my day healthily got me thinking: Is there a healthier substitute for the cornmeal in polenta? Cornmeal isn't the worst thing you could eat. It's filled with complex carbohydrates and is more or less considered low to medium on the glycemic index. But corn is still corn, which typically converts to sugar relatively quickly, and many cornmeals remove a lot of the nutritional value of corn by removing the germ and husk through processing.

Immediately I thought of quinoa. The first time I had quinoa, I thought its texture felt like I was chewing on oversized pieces of cornmeal. It also helps that regular quinoa has a similar color to cornmeal. Aside from texture and color, quinoa is more likely to retain its nutritional value because you purchase uncooked quinoa in its complete, seed form. Quinoa contains tons of fiber and protein, along with all of your essential amino acids, and also has fewer grams of carbohydrates attributed to starches than cornmeal. Quinoa also has a great nutty flavor to it that generally one-ups cornmeal's neutral flavor. Ultimately, I don't think cornmeal should be taken off the diabetic's table, but I prefer quinoa when I get the chance.

So on Tuesday, I made it my goal to figure out a way to create a quinoa polenta. Not a polenta made from cornmeal with quinoa dots hanging out in it, but a legitimate polenta made out of quinoa. I ended up adopting Scott Conant's creamy polenta recipe from Bold Italian:

4 oz of cornmeal polenta
1 cup of milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tbsp of butter
2 tablespoons of grated parmagiano reggiano
Salt to taste

Instead of cornmeal, I used 3/4 cups (about 3.3 oz) of uncooked Trader Joe's Organic Quinoa and pre-cooked the quinoa in almond milk. The quinoa already has its own nutty flavor, but I figured a little almond milk in lieu of water might bring in even more flavor. I thought about cooking the quinoa in water, but I didn't want to water down the final product. Also, almond milk only has one net gram of carbohydrates, or, in other words, more of that healthy fiber.

I cooked the quinoa nearly to completion, but because quinoa generally has a little bit more texture than cornmeal, I threw the quinoa into my hand blender. Cooked quinoa doesn't blend too easily, so a small food processor or blender is better than a full-sized equivalent. I threw in just a little bit of almond milk to get the blending going until the quinoa was slightly smoother, but still grainy. The texture should be nearly identical to cornmeal at this point.

Because cornmeal is naturally starchier than quinoa, I decided to use one and a half cups of heavy cream and half a cup of almond milk to mix in with the quinoa. Other than that, I stuck to the recipe, more or less (I used 1/2 tbsp of butter instead of 1). The overall cooking time is really however long you want to spend stirring the polenta every five minutes. For me, it took about an hour to get it to the creamy consistency and toasted flavor I wanted.

The fricassee was relatively easy to make. I used wild black trumpet mushrooms that I found at Pike Place Market for a reasonable price, which was really freaking exciting. The less exciting part was how long it took to clean out the mushrooms. You can't go wrong with wild mushrooms, shallots, chicken reduction, olive oil, chives, and truffle oil. Fun fact about black trumpet mushrooms that I read in The Wild Table: Black trumpet mushrooms are so difficult to spot during the day that many foragers search for them with a flashlight at night because the undersides glimmer like road reflectors.

The result? Surprisingly, pretty darn good, and my blood sugar stayed stable. Obviously it wasn't anywhere as delicious as the Scarpetta original, but the truffled mushroom fricassee juices balanced in the way that I'd hoped they would with the quinoa polenta. The texture was great, and the dash of truffle oil really brought the creaminess and earthiness of the two components together. The added nuttiness from the quinoa and almond milk was noticeable and added to the heartiness of the dish. I would definitely recommend this recipe with quinoa or cornmeal. Either way, the end product is probably going to be delicious.

If you're thinking about your workweek lunches, this microwaves really well with some leftover roast chicken sitting on top.

And in case you were wondering, I caved on Monday night and had a spoonful of sugar-free vanilla ice cream and a couple spoonfuls of fresh, unsalted almond butter. It could be worse, right?


  1. This is a fantastic post. Let's have a Scarpetta dinner party when you come home!

  2. Mmm, that last photo looks delicious!! I want to try Scarpetta too!!! Can I tag along??

  3. Thanks! Yes to the Scarpetta party and the tagging along! Haha. Someone needs to figure out how to make that awesome gelato.


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