Celebrity chef Scott Conant, creator of the critically acclaimed New York restaurant Scarpetta, has released The Scarpetta Cookbook. His dishes range from simple to quite complex, and many require some planning, but each one is worth the work for the end result. Conant calls the following recipe "a quintessential Scarpetta dish that has not lost its popularity over the years."

Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta

This is a quintessential Scarpetta dish that has not lost its popularity over the years. At the restaurant, waiters bring these mushrooms to the table in tiny saucepans. The lid to the pan is ceremoniously lifted, and you first experience the dish with what I call “the breathe,” that initial aromatic hit that puts the dish right in your head. The mushrooms and their cooking juices are then spooned over a waiting bowl of our creamy polenta.

Which wine? This rich dish needs a wine with intensity and weight to match the richness of the polenta and the woody nature of the mushrooms. A red from Umbria, like Caprai Montefalco Riserva or Sagrantino from Fattoria Scacciadiavoli, would fit the bill.

Scarpetta Mushroom Fricassee w Creamy Polenta

  • 6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Kosher salt
  • 10 ounces mixed domestic and wild mushrooms, sliced or cut into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cups Chicken Reduction (recipe follows), plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon preserved black truffles
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 3 cups Creamy Polenta (recipe follows)

In a medium saucepan, heat the 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring, until the shallots just begin to color, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 2 minutes. Add the Chicken Reduction, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half and has a saucy consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the preserved truffles. If the mixture thickens too much—you want the mushrooms to be swimming in the sauce but there should be a mushroom in every bite—add 2 tablespoons of the Chicken Reduction to thin it out a bit. Stir in the chives and crushed red pepper.

Divide the Creamy Polenta among serving bowls. Top with the mushrooms and their cooking liquid and serve immediately.

Creamy Polenta

Serves 8 to 10

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup coarse polenta
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the cream and milk until warm, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the salt and keep whisking until the liquid is very frothy (like a cappuccino) and hot. While still whisking, slowly rain the polenta into the pot. Continue to whisk until the granules swell, about 8 minutes. At this point, switch to a wooden spoon to stir the polenta. (It will get too thick for the whisk.) Keep stirring until the polenta has begun to thicken, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until it evenly begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until cooked through and the liquid has reduced, about 1½ hours. The polenta might look “done” sooner, but it does continue to soften, so be patient. During this time, a skin might form on the bottom of the pan, which is fine.

Just before serving, raise the heat to medium-high, stir in the butter and the cheese, and cook, stirring, until the butter is melted, then take the pot off the heat. If the polenta looks thin, don’t worry, as it will thicken as it cools.

Chicken Reduction

Makes about 4 cups

  • 6 pounds chicken bones (some meat on them is fine)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, bruised with the dull side of a chef’s knife
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 4 whole canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine

Heat a convection oven to 425°F or a conventional oven to 450°F.

Rinse the chicken bones and pat them dry. Spread them out on two rimmed baking sheets in a single layer with a little room between the bones. Roast until golden brown, about 1 hour, flipping and turning the bones every 15 minutes or so.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the celery, onion, and carrot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook, stirring, until some of the juices evaporate, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until almost all of it has evaporated. Add the chicken bones (with juices and drippings) to the stockpot, then add enough water to cover everything by about 2 inches (about 6 quarts). Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium to cook at a gentle simmer, stirring often to break up the bones and emulsify the fat, until the chicken is falling off the bones and the stock has a full flavor, 2 to 2½ hours.

Remove the chicken bones and strain the broth several times through a chinois or other fine-mesh strainer. If you want to make and use the reduction right away, spoon off any visible fat floating on top of the stock. Otherwise, chill the stock until the fat solidifies on top, and then scrape off and discard most of it.

Pour the defatted stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly so the stock is not boiling so furiously. As the stock simmers, some of it will remain on the sides of the saucepan; use a spoon or ladle to pour some of the stock over this to deglaze it. (This will further increase the intensity of the flavor.) Continue simmering until the stock has darkened, thickened, and reduced to about 4 cups, about 30 minutes. The reduction can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

scarpettaNote: If you don’t want to make, or don’t have the time to make, this chicken reduction but want to prepare one of the dishes calling for it, experiment with some of the commercial chicken reductions out there. One that I have tried with success is called Glace de Poulet Gold, by More Than Gourmet brand. A classic reduced chicken stock, it can be reconstituted to get a flavorful chicken reduction that, while not exactly what I make, is exceedingly convenient. You can find it at most supermarkets as well as at specialty food markets.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and from The Scarpetta Cookbook by Scott Conant, copyright © 2013. Photography by Brent Herrig. Read our review of this book.

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