Parmesan Mushroom Polenta

By Ann Fulton

A former White House chef shares his recipe for a versatile side dish, which can be easily transformed into a winning meal. A must make!
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A former White House chef shares his recipe for a versatile side dish, which can be easily transformed into a winning meal. A must make!


Early in my marriage, my husband was amused by how I could read a cookbook as though it were a best-selling novel. Well, I recently discovered a cookbook that even he would enjoy!

Chef John Moeller opens his book Dining at the White House: From the President’s Table to Yours with a very good question. “How does a kid from the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country end up cooking for international heads of state at the White House?

Through vivid recounts of personal experiences, Chef Moeller takes the reader on a historical journey and then rewards them with recipes. A sizable portion of the book is devoted to Moeller’s 13 years serving three First Families–those of Presidents George H.W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush.  In an easy-to-read manner, Moeller conveys a sense of history and a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen responsible for serving visiting dignitaries and presidential children alike.

The book includes photos from Chef Moeller’s personal collection as well as actual menus from various White House events. In hopes of truly bringing the White House experience to his readers, Moeller share some thirty recipes that have been scaled to serve six people.

I love John’s focus on creating unique yet approachable recipes that rely on basic, fresh ingredients. His story about a mushroom soup which inspired him early on is a testament to how simply prepared food can be nothing short of outstanding when the best seasonal ingredients are used.

In a recipe from the book that I prepared, I revisited mushrooms. Though John served Shiitake Polenta as a part of a broader luncheon on the occasion of a visit from Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel, I made a version using crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, and it was hearty enough for a main dish. We enjoyed the polenta as a base for a simple, pan-seared salmon, although the Rosemary & Garlic Chicken John served as a part of his menu on July 3, 1996 would be a delicious pairing, too!

Chef John Moeller has generously offered a copy of his cookbook, Dining at the White House: From the President’s Table to Yours, to one lucky reader. To enter, simply scroll down to the bottom of this post. The giveaway runs from 8:00 AM EST, Wednesday, December 18, 2013 through 8:00 AM, Thursday, December 26, 2013. The winner will be announced later that day and will have 48 hours to respond with a complete mailing address. Good luck! (Entry form has been removed as the giveaway has ended. Thank you to all who entered!)

A former White House chef shares his recipe for a versatile side dish, which can be easily transformed into a winning meal. A must make!

A side salad or green vegetable will complement the polenta dish beautifully. The addition of a protein will make it a heartier meal. I love this recipe for Crispy Skin Salmon, Shrimp is equally delightful, as is this easy recipe for 3-Ingredient Chuck Roast in Foil

Parmesan Mushroom Polenta
Chef John Moeller encourages his readers to use his recipes creatively, adapting the ingredients to taste or what is readily available. To that note, I varied the mushroom variety and altered a few other minor details of the original recipe.

Yield: 4-6 side dish servings; 2-3 main dish servings
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups chicken broth (plus an extra half cup or so to thin, as needed)
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ½ pound baby bella (crimini) or shiitake mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
  1. For the polenta: Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant but not brown.
  2. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the polenta. Reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10-15 minutes or until the polenta has thickened. (I like there to be a little soupiness remaining, as the polenta will continue to thicken as it sits. At this point you may also season to taste; depending on broth used, you may wish to add no salt or up to ½ teaspoon or so.)
  3. When the polenta is finished cooking, remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
  4. For the mushrooms: Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until their liquid has been released and the mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. (Here, I use about ¼ teaspoon of each.)
  5. Serve: You may stir in the mushrooms or top the polenta with them. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and enjoy!
  • Troubleshooting: If you keep the polenta on the heat a bit too long and the consistency is thicker than you would like – the consistency is also a matter of personal preference – you may stir in additional chicken broth to thin to your liking. Extra broth is also helpful to loosen any leftovers.
  • The polenta may be prepared in advance and gently reheated prior to serving. Again, loosen with additional broth, as needed.
  • More ways to enjoy the polenta: Feel free to also use the polenta recipe without the mushrooms and enjoy it as a side dish in lieu of a starch like rice or potatoes. The polenta is also delicious topped with grilled or pan seared shrimp.
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