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Shiitake Stew with Crisp Polenta

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup water, cold
2 cups water, boiling
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
flour, for dusting board
olive oil, for frying

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
8 large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed thinly sliced
4 sun-dried tomatoes, drained and diced
1/4 cup brandy
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon thyme
dash nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups raw spinach, chopped

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal and cold water
to make a smooth paste. Add to boiling water and stir vigorously
with a wooden spoon. The polenta will thicken and form a ball.
Add the cheese, salt, and black pepper and beat by hand for 1
minutes until elastic and smooth. Place the polenta in a loaf pan
lined with plastic wrap, cover, and chill for at least 4 hours or
overnight. Remove the polenta from the loaf pan by inverting it
onto a cutting board. Slice it into 1/4 inch thick squares or
triangles. Roll the top edge (and sides, if you like it hot!) of
each polenta slice in red pepper flakes, then dust the entire
surface with flour. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over moderate
heat, and brown and crisp the polenta slices on each side. Transfer
to a serving platter or individual soup plates.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over moderate heat and add the shallot,
stirring while sauteing until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms
and sun-dried tomatoes, sauteing until the mushrooms have absorbed
the oil and the pan is dry. Remove pan from stovetop, and add the
brandy. Lower heat and return pan to the stovetop, being wary of
flames. Cook on low for 1 minutes, then add the Worcestershire
sauce, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and cream. Bring to a simmer
and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the cream has
reduced by half. Add the spinach just before serving and stir until
just wilted. Serve stew over the polenta.


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