Fontina and Mushroom Polenta Panini

 

panini 6A couple of months ago, my friend Cheryl and I went for a cheese making class.  Cheryl is my quirky friend… you know, the girl who I talked about in my post about my tomato tartlets, when she took me to a quaint little cooking school in the midst of a peach orchard! And then one time went to see Bobby Flay, and we stood outside his exit like a couple of little foodie groupies, hoping to get an autograph from him! Another time she hosted an Iron Chef competition at her house… We have taken quite a few cooking classes together.  I just never know what she has up her sleeve, but it’s pure craziness and I’m always game!

grilled polenta 3This really isn’t about the cheese making class at all, but about the drive to the farm for the class. It was about an hour drive, and she gave me a silly little hat to wear in her convertible…. And she pulls out iced coffees for us to enjoy during the ride… and says: “Oh, and I grabbed a few cookbooks for you to read on the way…”

Seriously… Does that girl know me, or what?

So, while I was flipping through the cookbooks, I was making mental notes of the books that I wanted to order when I got home. There was one in particular that I really liked…. It is called “The Great Big Butter Cookbook” by Diana C. Von Glahn.. First of all, this book doesn’t really even pertain to butter at all…but is filled with some really appealing “comfort” recipes. Ok, recipes that look really good, but I know that I would definitely add my own “comfort” touch.

grilled fontina on polentaI did find that cookbook in used section on Amazon for $3. Yes. Three dollars. Three bucks. Three smackaroos. But I’m not kidding when I tell you that the book arrived within a couple of days… it was brand new! The book was in absolutely perfect condition, but alas, no notes or markings from the previous owner! Bummer.

And now, it sits on my coffee table, with bookmarked pages of all of the recipes that I will be trying in the near future. Like these Polenta Fontina “Paninis” with Mushroom Sauce.

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew that it was the first one that I would try. But you know, I can’t leave things well enough alone… The original recipe called for sun dried tomatoes…which….I should say would have been delicious….but I thought that it needed something more substantial…something with “oomph”… so I made a caramelized onion and tomato jam that is simply out of this world, and that took the place of the sundried tomatoes. I  sautéed mushrooms instead of a sauce, and I made my own polenta, rather than purchasing a tube.

grilled polenta 2Oh yeah, I made the right choice. The sweet, yet savory jam brought so much “happy” to the dish… it was like an instantaneous friendship with the mild, yet tangy fontina… the earthy mushrooms, and the crisp buttery polenta. They just belonged together.

The paninis are perfect for a brunch… serious…poach an egg and throw it on top. Delicious. They’re perfect for lunch…they’re perfect for appetizers…or would make a lovely light dinner!

And….you can be sure that I’ll be making notes in this book for the next owner….whomever that may be…

Oh yeah, and I’ll be sharing a couple of the things I learned from cheese making very soon!

Life is good. It’s a “One man’s old cookbook, is another man’s treasure” kind of good…

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 Fontina and Mushroom Polenta Panini 
Serves 4
Adapted from the Recipe: “Polenta Fontina “Paninis” with Mushroom Sauce from the cookbook: The Great Big Butter Cookbook by Diana von Glahn

16 Polenta Rounds (Recipe below)
Caramelized tomato and onion jam (Recipe below)
5 oz fontina cheese (1 oz grated, 4 oz sliced into 8 slices)
2 tbsp butter for polenta rounds plus 1 extra tbsp butter for sautéing mushrooms
8 oz whole baby bella mushrooms
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 ground black pepper
A few sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large frying pan. Add 8 polenta rounds to the frying pan. Fry until golden browned, and flip. Fry on the other side until browned. Remove from pan, and set aside on a cooling rack. Add the remaining 8 polenta rounds, and repeat the frying until both sides are browned.

Leaving the second batch of polenta rounds in the pan, reduce the heat on the stove, and add about a tablespoon or so of the caramelized tomato and onion jam to the tops of each of the 8 polenta rounds that are still in the frying pan. Place a slice of fontina cheese on top of each of the jam topped rounds. Place the reserved rounds on top, as a sandwich. Sprinkle each sandwich with the grated fontina. Top the pan with a lid, and let sit until the cheese has melted.

In the meantime, in a separate frying pan, melt the 1 tbsp butter. Add the bella mushrooms, salt, pepper, and chopped thyme. Saute for about five minutes, or until the mushrooms are golden brown.

Top each panini with the mushrooms, and garnish with the fresh thyme.

Serve hot.

Quick Polenta Rounds

Makes 16 rounds, 8 panini sandwiches
1 cup quick polenta
3 cups water
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the polenta, simmer for about three minutes, or until the polenta pulls away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat, and stir in the Romano cheese.

Pour into a buttered 9″x11″ pan, and let sit until cooled. Once the polenta has set, cut into 2-1/2″ – 3″ circles. Set aside.

Caramelized Onion and Tomato Jam
Makes One Cup

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1 large onion, sliced thin
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water
1 pound assorted cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Add the onions, and sauté until a dark golden brown. Add the water, cherry tomatoes, brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper, vinegar, and lemon juice. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes have burst, and using your wooden spoon, gently press down on the tomatoes to break them up. The skins will start to separate from the tomatoes. Remove them if you want, but it’s really not necessary! (the skins on cherry tomatoes are so thin, they will break up when ground in the food processor). So honestly? Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to remove them!

Simmer until all of the juices have caramelized, and the sauce has thickened.  Let cool. Add the cooled tomato and onion mixture to the food processor, and process until smooth. This can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Enjoy!

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