The name of this recipe is slightly misleading. Yes, this is technically a salad because it sits on a bed of arugula; however, this is not your garden variety garden salad. A beautiful dish like this, overflowing with so many flavorful and filling ingredients, deserves to be the star attraction and leaves no room for a main course. That grilled chicken that you were planning will just have to wait and make its debut tomorrow, because this salad is a tough act to follow.
The creation of this salad started when I decided that I wanted to make grilled polenta after reading a recipe for it in a magazine. Polenta is one of those foods that is slowly making a comeback in the gourmet restaurant scene, but many people aren't quite sure what it is, so they don't order it. Ironically, polenta started out as a peasant food because you can make a very basic version of it using only cornmeal and water. Today, restaurants are mixing it with cheeses, sundried tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and fresh herbs to give it more flavor. It can be served either soft, similar to mashed potatoes, or grilled, as in this recipe. I prefer polenta grilled because it is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside as opposed to just one texture.
To accompany the polenta, I really just started adding some of my favorite ingredients that I had on hand. Large portobello mushrooms are great for marinating and grilling because they absorb so much flavor and have a nice, almost meaty texture. Thick red onions caramelize deliciously on the grill and add a new color to the salad. Salty and slightly smoky prosciutto crisps up quickly under the broiler and serves as a crunchy topper to the salad. And Parmigiano-Reggiano, well, I'll put that on pretty much anything! Here are some pointers for making this delicious salad:
- If you don't want to make polenta using the slow-cook method, you can save time by purchasing either a box of instant polenta or a tube of pre-cooked polenta. The instant polenta can usually be found near the rice, grains, and pasta in the grocery store, but you can also check the organic/health foods section or Italian foods section, if your store has one. The pre-cooked polenta, if your store has some in stock, is typically kept in the refrigerated meats and cheeses section, but your best bet would be to ask someone who works there as each store is different.
- Arugula is a mixed green, with a similar appearance to baby spinach, but with a slightly peppery flavor. If you can't find any arugula, you may substitute other mixed greens or baby spinach.
- If you don't have a grill or a grill pan, you can always pan sear the polenta in a large skillet, and you can roast the portobellos and onions in a 375F degree oven for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through the roasting time.
- You will know that the polenta is ready to flip on the grill when the entire piece can be lifted off the grates cleanly with a spatula.
- To shave Parmigiano-Reggiano, grip the block of cheese firmly in one hand and, using a carrot peeler, peel thin slices away from you. Alternatively, you can just grate the cheese over the salad.
Grilled Polenta, Prosciutto, and Portobello Salad
6 portobello mushrooms, stems and caps separated, halved
1 large red onion, thickly sliced (1/2 inch rings)
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
6 pieces of thinly sliced prosciutto
1/2 cup chicken stock
12 pieces set polenta (see recipe)
4-6 cups arugula
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved
Toss the portobellos and sliced onions with the garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally, for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, crisp the prosciutto: Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the prosciutto, in a single layer, on the sheet. Broil the prosciutto for 3-4 minutes, or until crispy. Let cool completely and then break into pieces (4-5 pieces per slice of prosciutto.)
Transfer the portobellos and onions to a plate. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock. Raise the heat and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high. Lightly brush the tops and bottoms of the polenta pieces with olive oil and place on one side the grill pan. Cook, flipping once, until the polenta is marked, crisp, and no longer sticks to the grill, 6-8 minutes per side. Meanwhile, place the portobellos and onions on the other side of the grill pan and cook, turning frequently to avoid burning, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Place the arugula on a platter. Arrange the polenta, portobellos, and onions on top. Drizzle about half of the sauce over the portobellos. Top with the crispy prosciutto and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately with extra sauce on the side.
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