The ABC's of Cooking with Lynn Fredericks
author of Cooking Time Is Family Time

   H  is for Herbs
Polenta with Portobellos and Thyme

Adapted from Lynne Fredericks' Cooking Time is Family Time.

We all like mushrooms and portobellos are particularly tasty and filling. Kids are impressed by their size and, being so large, they are easier for small children to work with. So, when looking for a worthy topping for toasted polenta, I took this slow-roasting idea I’d learned from a former chef client and worked it into this dish. This is a dish that appeals to all ages and it is also versatile. It serves as an excellent pre-made hors d’oeuvre if you make the polenta squares bite sized, refrigerate until party time and re-heat in the oven just before serving.

6 servings

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 1/3 cups polenta
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth (homemade, canned or bouillon)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 medium portobellos
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Equipment: Aluminum foil; parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Have older children help dice the onion. Meanwhile, small children can help measure the polenta and the chicken broth.

When the onions are chopped, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onions over low heat until translucent, stirring occasionally, approximately 10 minutes. When the onions are cooked, pour in the chicken broth and heat to a simmer. Now have kids pour in the pre-measured polenta. Parents can first stir the pot with a whisk to break up any lumps, then children can take turns stirring with a wooden spoon as they watch it thicken before their eyes, approximately 10 minutes.

Next have little ones pluck the thyme leaves from their stems, discarding the stems. Then have them hit the leaves gently with the back of a rolling pin or wooden spoon to release their oils. Meanwhile have older children quarter the portobellos and place them in the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Next little ones can sprinkle the thyme over the mushrooms and pour over the olive oil to cover. Help them seal the foil tightly and parents should place it in the pre-heated oven for approximately 45 minutes.

When the polenta is done remove it from the heat immediately. Have the children grate the Parmesan cheese with a box grater and stir it into the hot polenta. Now let the kids help you measure a piece of parchment to fit a large shallow baking dish. They can do this by turning the dish down over the paper and tracing the size. Have them cut it out and line the bottom of the dish. Now have them butter the parchment and spread the polenta on top in an even layer. Place the polenta in the freezer to cool and harden.

After the polenta has cooled for at least 20 minutes, check to see if it is firm enough to be turned out from the baking dish. When it is firm, turn it out and peel off the parchment. Let the children cut it into squares and place them on a baking sheet. When the portobellos are done, turn up the oven temperature to 425F. Bake the polenta squares in the bottom of the oven until firm -- a bit like toast (approximately 15 minutes).

To serve, let the children help you arrange the polenta ‘toasts’ on a platter and spoon some of the mushrooms on top of each wedge.

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