Lemony mushroom ragu on oozy polenta with kale pesto

Lemony mushroom ragu on oozy polenta with kale pesto

This Lemony mushroom ragu on oozy polenta with kale pesto is a 20 minute dinner in a bowl that oozes Italian deliciousness and will win over even the most avid meat eater. The polenta is comforting, the mushrooms are meaty and umami rich. The pesto adds freshness and helps get some healthy greens into even the most picky eater.

If polenta doesn’t float your boat, make the mushrooms and pesto and stir them through pasta or spoon them onto toast with a poached egg.

Polenta bowls have become a regular mid-week comforting dinner for us. I serve them with all manner of meals. Because polenta is gluten free it is handy for entertaining. It is fabulous in place of pasta with Bolognese sauce or leftover meat stew. I also love it with this chorizo and chickpea stew. If you have leftover polenta, pour it onto a plate, chill it, chop it into wedges then shallow fry it until it is crispy on the outside. 

I usually double the pesto recipe below because it is such a handy flavour booster to have in the fridge. It is amazing on sandwiches, on soup, on crostini. I love to stir it through steamed or roasted green beans or broccoli before serving.

Pesto can be kept in the fridge for around 5 days. Be sure to keep it in a narrow glass jar and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface to stop air getting to it. Once air gets to it, it oxidizes and turns brown.

Pesto Genovese is the classic pesto recipe but free yourself from that and start to think of pesto as just a mixture of a few building blocks:

something green + cheese + something crunchy + oil + seasoning

green: basil/parsley/rocket/ spinach/watercress/kale/cooked broccoli

crunch: raw skin-on almonds/ walnuts/pistachios/cashews/pine nuts/sunflower or pumpkin seeds/toasted breadcrumbs

cheese: Cheddar/Parmesan/Pecorino/ hard goat’s or sheep’s cheese

seasoning: black pepper/red pepper flakes + sea salt + lemon juice and zest/vinegar

oil: olive/avocado/walnut oil

Lemony mushroom ragu on oozy polenta with kale pesto ingredients (serves 4)

Mushroom ragu:

  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 500-700g (around 20 ounces) mushrooms – chestnut or Portobellini (not button)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala, sherry or white wine
  • zest of a lemon (remove the wax first)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. Buy the whole nutmeg and grate it with a Microplane
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Optional: 10g dried Porcini mushrooms
  • Around half a cup of boiling water

Kale pesto:

  • 30g (1oz) basil leaves and stalks – the stalks have tons of flavour and you’ve paid for them, so use them!
  • 60g (2oz) baby kale or rocket
  • 60g (2oz or ¼ cup) pumpkin seeds
  • 85g (3oz or ¾ cup) of roughly chopped Parmesan
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons your best extra virgin olive oil
  • zest and juice of half a lemon


  • 940ml (4 cups) homemade chicken or vegetable stock (ideally) or boiling water mixed with an organic stock cube or paste of your choice. I like Kallo cubes in the UK and Better Than Bouillon in the US.
  • 150g (1 cup) polenta – buy ‘fast cook’ or ‘instant’ polenta for speed or add 30 mins to the cooking time for traditional polenta
  • 60g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan
  • A couple of tablespoons of salted butter – the more the better!
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • zest of a lemon
  • sea salt to taste (depends how salty your stock is)

To make the pesto…

  1. Place all the pesto ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you get a rough paste. Scrape down the sides with a silicone spatula if need be and blitz again to ensure all is incorporated. It will look thicker and less oily than the bought stuff.
  2. Taste and adjust the seasoning (add more pepper or some lemon zest or juice if needed to balance things). You’re unlikely to need salt as the cheese is salty but taste and see what you think. Set aside while you make the other elements of your meal.

To make the ragu…

  1. Put your dried Porcini into a coffee cup and fill the cup half way with boiling water. Set aside for the mushrooms to reconstitute.
  2. Take out a large non-stick frying pan. Drop the butter into it and set it on a low heat to melt while you chop your mushrooms.
  3. Chop your mushrooms. I prefer quarters to slices but do what you prefer. There is no need to wash mushrooms – you never should as they absorb the water like a sponge. Nor do you need to peel any parts. Just use your thumb or a bit of kitchen paper to brush off any dirt.
  4. Add your mushrooms to the pan of melted butter and increase the heat to high. Use a silicone spatula to stir them. They will start to release liquid as they cook, then this liquid will evaporate and you will be left with a more concentrated flavour. I usually cook mine for 5-7 minutes at this stage so this is a good time to crush the garlic, and boil the water for your polenta. If you’re a good multi-tasker and you want to shave 6 minutes off your cooking time, you can even make the polenta now, just keep an eye on your mushrooms.
  5. Peel and crush the garlic using the side of your knife and a pinch of sea salt.

6. Add it to the pan of mushrooms along with the reconstituted porcini mushrooms – use a fork to scoop them out of the cup and into the pan, leaving the liquid behind.

7. Add the Marsala and grated nutmeg (I use my Microplane zester to do this) to the mushrooms and stir well. Cook for another 2 minutes then add the lemon zest (using my Microplane again). Taste and add salt and pepper and some lemon juice until you’re happy with it.

To make the polenta…

  1. Put a large saucepan on a high heat and add the stock. Heat until bubbling then pour in the polenta while still whisking. The larger your pan, the more space there is for the polenta to spit without coming out of the pan.
  2. Use a whisk to stir the pan constantly on a medium heat. The polenta is liable to splutter so be careful. It may be worth holding the whisk with an oven glove or cover your arm with your sleeve. Cook while whisking for 2 minutes. It will thicken very quickly.
  3. Continue to cook and stir for around 4 minutes before turning off the heat and adding the cheese, lemon zest, butter, sea salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve your Lemony mushroom ragu on oozy polenta with kale pesto…

Warm the bowl you’ll be eating from in the microwave for a minute then scoop the polenta into it. Shake it so that it settles a little then scoop some of the mushrooms on top – be sure to get some of the juices too. Finish with blobs of the pesto, dotted around the top of it and a final grating of Parmesan. A little lemon zest scattered on the top is lovely too if you have any left.


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