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…

grilled polenta 4

 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


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.


grilled polenta 2

Pork Chili with Polenta

Here we are, at the end of the weekend…and I didn’t get a chance to do any cooking.  My husband and I spent the weekend at our cabin.  Jon built the cabin about two years ago, but with a temporary kitchen, because with all new cabinets, refrigerator, etc., it was going to be an expensive endeavor.  He rigged up some countertops and shelves…and hung some old cabinets.  It worked just fine for the time being. We just had to recoup financially after the initial building of the cabin.  But after falling into a really great deal on cabinets at the Home Depot, and this crazy (shaking my head, I’m still in shock) deal at Sears for a new fridge and microwave, and a new countertop built by Jon’s friend, we were able to do the kitchen a little bit sooner than we had anticipated, and for way less money than we had thought.


Anyway…getting back to the not cooking.  For the last three weeks or so, Jon had been installing the cabinets and countertop.  I haven’t been going to the cabin, because it’s hunting season..and that’s really not my favorite time to be down there.  I don’t know…there’s something about having a couple months of weekends to myself… I love it. But this past weekend, it was just going to be Jon going alone, so Sophie and I decided that we’d go along to keep him company. Not to mention, I was anxious to see the new kitchen! He decided to install the ceramic tile backsplash, which meant that the kitchen was going to be out of commission.  He got as far as he could (he forgot to bring the tile cutter thing), but the photo pretty much gives you the grand scheme of things. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, Jon really did a great job..and honestly..I’m so proud of him for building this cabin pretty much by himself..he’s quite a talented carpenter.


I have this wonderful and really cool pancake recipe inspired by my daughter Katie and her boyfriend Ryan that I was going to do.  I’ll try to get that made tomorrow night.   In the meantime, I have a pork tenderloin chili recipe that I made for dinner last week that I’ll share tonight.  The reason I didn’t post it sooner is because I didn’t want to post about polenta so soon after posting the chicken over polenta recipe.  I was worried that it was going to look like I have tunnel vision (or should I say tunnel cravings) when it comes to some ingredients or food, i.e. cupcakes, polenta, gnocchi… which isn’t really the case, it just happens that these things come up in groups, rather than here and there… if that even makes sense!!

In all honesty…
I do get “tunnel cravings”
I could eat it every night.
And chocolate.
But chocolate is a necessary evil, so that doesn’t count.

So..back to the chili.  The night I made it, I was hungry for chili.  But I wanted meaty chili… not just ground beef chili, but big chunks of meat chili.  I had a pork tenderloin and some ground beef in the freezer. I defrosted them both, and sautéed the pork and beef with some onions, peppers, and garlic.  And then, you know me… I started building the recipe…thinking that I should make this into a Cincinnati chili…you know…over spaghetti (there’s a surprise..) with chopped onions on top..   But then, as I was looking in the cupboard for spaghetti, I came across the package of polenta..and any thoughts of Cincinnati or spaghetti flew out the window… I can happily say that the polenta won!! I decided that I would cook the polenta until it was nice and thick, cut it into mini squares, and then I’d fold it into the chili, just like the very first time I ever tried it.

What I really love about this chili, is that you can get home from work, and have it cooked up in a short amount of time. Just throw everything in the pot, and let it do it’s own thing. I can honestly say that this was such a satisfying meal… a close your eyes and say “Mmmm” with every spoonful, kind of meal.  Life is good. It’s pork tenderloin and polenta in your chili kind of good.


Pork Chili with Polenta

Just a quick note… this recipe will serve six generous servings. While I used a sweet red pepper, please feel free to use a green pepper. I tend to buy more red peppers than I do green, only because I think that the red tend to be way less bitter when cooked, than the green. Don’t get me wrong, I still love green peppers, I just use more red. I used all tomato sauce because of my finicky eaters at home. If they found any remnants of tomato in a dish, you’d think that the world was about to end…(rolling my eyes here). So if you like tomatoes, use one can of sauce, and one can of crushed tomatoes. It would be delicious! Also, even though the polenta won this time around, I’m still thinking that this would be awesome served as Cincinnati Chili. Do whatever tickles your fancy…

The Chili
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into chunks
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 15.5 oz cans light red kidney beans, drained
2 – 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (or more if you like the heat)

In a large pot, sauté the onions, pepper, and garlic until tender.  Add the pork and ground beef, and cook until browned. Add the sauce, kidney beans, brown sugar, chili powder, Worchestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper on medium heat.  When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens, about an hour and a half or so.

While the chili is simmering, go ahead and cook up the polenta.  That will give it plenty of time to thicken and set…

The Polenta:
2 cups water
1/2 cup instant polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup romano cheese

Bring the two cups of water and salt to a boil. Slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water, whisking constantly. Simmer on lowest heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and romano cheese. Pour into a shallow 9 x 9 baking dish that has been sprayed with vegetable cooking spray. Let it set while the chili is cooking, and then cut into mini squares. Carefully fold the squares into the chili. Serve in bowls… sprinkle with your favorite cheese if desired..