A bowl of roasted mushroom polenta bake topped with parmesan cheese and pepper.

Lukas Volger, author of Bowl and Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, has a new book out: Start Simple. It’s filled with “the types of recipes and tools that will help to make everyday cooking a habit.”

The subtitle sums it up best: “Eleven Everyday Ingredients for Countless Weeknight Meals.”

Included among the eleven everyday ingredients are beans (canned and dried), a stack of tortillas, a head of cabbage, essential hearty greens, crowns of cauliflower and broccoli, a block of tofu, and …

… friends! Can you feel my heart racing exploding? It’s ALL of my favorite foods.

I felt very distracted flipping through the book the first time around because I wanted to make every recipe I came across. And when I landed on the “pile of mushrooms” chapter, I thought I might lose my mind. I dogeared nearly every recipe โ€” shiitake lettuce cups, skillet mushroom strata, mushroom and radicchio pasta with nutty gremolata, to name a few.

But I kicked off the experiments with this roasted mushroom polenta bake, and I’m so happy I did.

This is exactly the kind of meal I crave this time of year: when I’m done with winter, but when I still need warming, comforting food. When I feel I just. can’t. roast. another. root. (Though I definitely will. Tomorrow.) When I want something hearty, but don’t feel like chopping all day. This, I think, is when mushrooms, meaty and earthy, never pull their weight more.

With minimal prep and chopping, this dish comes together quickly. You don’t even, in fact, have to chop the mushrooms โ€” you simply tear them into irregular shapes. How nice? Then, you dress them with both olive oil and vinegar, and roast them for about 20 minutes.

During this time, the polenta materializes stovetop. When the mushrooms finish roasting, they unite with the polenta along with a sprinkling of fresh thyme and grated parmesan. The pan then returns to the oven, where the roasted mushrooms toast up even more as they simultaneously melt into the polenta, which thickens up further and crisps at the edges. It’s ready when the whole sphere of polenta and mushrooms gently undulates, as though, if given enough time, it might lift up out of the pan all together.

I like drizzling the finished dish with a little more olive oil and cracking lots of pepper over top, and while I think it is delicious as is, I can’t help think about where else it could go? Showered with toasted walnuts? Topped with poached eggs? Loaded with sautรฉed greens? The possibilities are endless with this perfect simple start.

PS: Oven-baked polenta (a miracle) with poached eggs.

Here’s the play-by-play: Roast about a pound of mushrooms, dressed with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, for 15 to 20 minutes or until …

A sheet pan of mushrooms tossed with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

golden and tender.

A sheet pan of roasted mushrooms.

Meanwhile, pour a cup of polenta into …

A bag and a measuring cup filled with polenta.

… 5 cups of water and bring to a simmer.

A skillet filled with bubbling polenta.

In 20 minutes or so, it should be thick and bubbling. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

A skillet of cooked polenta with olive oil being stirred in.

Chop up some thyme.

Thyme leaves on a cutting board.

Sprinkle the roasted mushrooms and thyme over the polenta.

A skillet of polenta topped with roasted mushrooms.

Grate some parmesan over top if you wish.

An overhead shot of a skillet of roasted mushroom polenta bake just out of the oven.

Return pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Just baked roasted mushroom polenta bake.

Serve immediately, passing more parmesan and pepper on the side. A drizzle more of olive oil is nice, too.

A bowl of roasted mushroom polenta bake with a spoon in it.
An up close shot of a bowl of roasted mushroom polenta bake.

Lukas Volger’s Start Simple, such a good one:

Start Simple by Lukas Volger.