A Real 30 Minute Meal

June 21, 2013

If I say 30-Minute Meal, what pops into your head?  Letmeguess.  Rachael Ray.

There was a time when Rachael Ray was just a woman with a successful show on the Food Network.  Before her magazine, talk show, multiple endorsements, and annoying sayings.  Back then, I watched her occasionally.  I got a santoku because I liked the look of her knife (back when she used a Wüstoff, before she had her own line), and I got a kick out of watching her race through putting a meal together in 30 minutes.

These days, I have a hard time with her.  The sound of her voice alone is enough to make me leave the room.  I admire her.  I know she came from humble beginnings and is totally self-made.  She has worked hard for her many successes and I applaud her for all of that.  She, and her food, are just not for me.

The concept of the 30-minute meal is brilliant.  30 minutes is about the time limit of what a normal person wants to spend on making dinner.  (I am not a normal person and sometimes spend two to three times that long.)  What I have heard from friends who like her is that as much as they try to get all of her menus done in 30, it never works out that way.  False advertising.

I hope this is not false advertising.  In my house, this is a 30-minute meal.  That includes time to make a salad.  Over the many years I have been cooking and working with food, I have gotten to be very good at working efficiently in the kitchen.  So this is how I would make this meal.  I would start the polenta first.  It takes a bit of your attention at the beginning and then it basically cooks itself with an occasional stir.  This is one of the beauties of polenta and why you might want to make it part of your regular menu planning.  While it is doing its thing, I would heat up the sauce pan and chop the onion and red pepper.  Once those are sautéing, I would chop the mushrooms and the basil.  Once all the ingredients are in the pan and simmering, I would put together the salad.  I actually think the sweetness of the cherries in this salad would balance nicely with this super savory dish.  Seriously.  30 minutes.

Two Years Ago:  Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, Late Spring Pizza with Nettle Pesto
Three Years Ago:  Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, Flo’s Chocolate Snaps, MY TATTOO!
Four Years Ago:  Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream, Feta Radish Spread, Spring Vegetables with Lemon Vinaigrette
Five Years Ago:  Spicy Tofu in Lettuce Cups, Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars, Mushroom Pearl Pasta with Sweet Peas

Polenta with Spicy Mushrooms
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4

You can use any grind of cornmeal for the polenta.  It does not have to be labeled “polenta”.  I’ve had success with all of it.  I personally think the polenta itself has a ton of flavor with just vegetable broth and a small handful of Parmesan cheese but you can add cream and more cheese if you want it to be richer. 

Unless I am serving them stuffed or grilled, I almost always scrape the gills out of a portabello mushroom.  There is no flavor in the gills and it just make the color of whatever you are cooking muddy.  I just use a teaspoon to scrape them out.

1½ cups polenta or cornmeal
6 cups water or vegetable broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 large portabello mushrooms, gills scraped out, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound cremini or white mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
2 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, shredded
Additional Parmesan cheese

Pour the water or broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly.  Continue whisking until the mixture seems really thick.  It will seem like too much liquid at first but will thicken up quickly.  Add a pinch of salt and turn down the heat.  Cook, stirring once every five minutes or so, until very thick, about 25 minutes.  Stir in the ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, place a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and red bell pepper along with a large pinch of salt.  Continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and just start to brown, about 7 minutes.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant but make sure the garlic does not burn, about 3 more minutes.  Add all the mushrooms, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook until the mushrooms are brown in spots, another 7 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate.  Pour in the wine and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Stir in the basil and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve bowls of polenta topped with the mushroom mixture and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.


  1. I love this. I wish I could convince my teenager that polenta is heaven and not yucky. :) I can’t even shift the bag in the cupboard without teenager moaning. This looks fab though and a definite keeper for the next time she’s gone. ha Yum!! xo ~heather

    Comment by Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet — June 21, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

  2. This sounds delicious (and perfect for a PNW spring while we await the vegetables and/or vegetables dishes to match the weather).

    I think the problem for most people, me included, with making 30 minute meals in 30 minutes is a combination of bad knife skills and needing to check the recipe. I have decent, but slow knife skills. And I’ve noticed meal cooking runs much smoother when I don’t have to refer to the recipe at all. Lucky for me I find cooking to be fun and relaxing (when I don’t have a deadline breathing down my neck) so I don’t mind the process.

    Comment by Michelle — June 21, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  3. Rachael has had a few good recipes (notably some eggplant subs with tomato jam I made a few years ago…todiefor) but largely I agree…she’s annoying and most of her recipes are kind of subpar. Polenta is a GREAT base for a 30 minute meal and it’s one of my favorites. I tend to make something very similar to this using whatever veggies I have on hand!

    Comment by Joanne — June 23, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

  4. I make caponata on polenta in the summer, (like Sicilian ratatouille!)….it’s one of my favorite veg meals, takes more like 45 minutes, but who’s counting.

    I also can not stand RR voice, though I am not a hater of anyone. Good for her! (and you and me!). xo

    Comment by stacey snacks — June 27, 2013 @ 2:28 am

  5. I used to watch Rachel Ray all of the time, but after awhile, I wasn’t learning anything new and moved on.

    Meanwhile, your polenta recipe looks gorgeous and delicious. I’ll have to leave out the tomato paste due to allergies. I’ll just make a bell pepper puree instead.

    Thanks for sharing. I love polenta!

    Comment by Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box — July 3, 2013 @ 6:05 am

  6. This was really, really good. Satisfying and spicy, and excellent flavor. Thanks!!

    Comment by Colleen — July 6, 2013 @ 12:46 am

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