A vegetarian stew with a tasty cheesy twist

As much as I love a beef stew, the lightness in this mushroom version is so noticeable

This mushroom stew is a real winner at this time of year. As much as I love a beef stew, the lightness in this mushroom version is so noticeable. The texture is fantastic and it is equally as good with mashed potato as it is with this indulgent Parmesan polenta.

Polenta is a fantastic option for a quick dinner plate filler when you don’t have time to peel potatoes or are tired of pasta. The beauty of polenta, Italian ground cornmeal, is that leftovers can be poured into a shallow dish, to solidify. The slab of polenta can then be cut into thick fingers and baked or fried to make the most delicious polenta chips. They taste so good dipped in a thick herbed tomato sauce, or with extra Parmesan grated over while they are still warm.

I’ve used thyme and a little rosemary for this stew. Rosemary is meaty and strong as herbs go and can be a little dominant, so don’t be too heavy handed. Thyme brings warmth and gives a slow-cooked gravy richness. The butter here adds a real glossiness and depth to the sauce.

I love using thick, syrupy aged balsamic vinegar for this. It brings richness rather than sharpness. Vinegar is a highly underutilised ingredient in most kitchens. There are so many different flavours, styles and uses for vinegar. I use a 12-year-old aged balsamic from The Real Olive company for this. It is available online or at the stall in The English Market in Cork or from the Toonsbridge shop in Dublin.


The sticky sweetness of the balsamic vinegar is perfect with the earthy forest floor umami of mushrooms. This is one of those deceptively simple vegetarian dishes that joins the rotation of dishes I cook regularly.

If you have access to Ballyhoura mushrooms, then this is a wonderful recipe for them. Their foraged mushroom mix always reminds me of autumn. I’ve used regular chestnut and portobello mushrooms here, as they are readily available.


Serves four


For the polenta: 
1 litre water or stock 
250ml milk 
1 tsp salt 
160g polenta 
40g butter 
50g grated Parmesan cheese

For the stew: 
2 tbsp olive oil 
2 red onions, sliced or diced 
250g portobello mushrooms, wiped 
150g chestnut mushrooms, wiped 
2 cloves garlic, sliced 
3 tbsp tomato puree 
1 tsp balsamic vinegar 
1 tbsp finely chopped thyme 
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary 
125ml stock or water 
20g butter


1 First make the polenta. Heat one litre of water or chicken stock in a large saucepan with the milk. Once it begins to come to a boil, lower the heat and add the salt and polenta. Whisk to combine. Leave to bubble for 30 minutes, whisking or stirring every few minutes. Once it's thick and golden remove from the heat and stir through the butter and Parmesan. Set aside and cover to keep it warm.

2 While the polenta is cooking, thickly slice the mushrooms. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the onion, sauté till soft then add the mushrooms, a little salt and stir.

3 Cook till the mushrooms begin to darken then add the garlic and stir well. Cook for just a minute to remove any raw garlic flavour then add the herbs, tomato puree, balsamic vinegar and stock. Finally add the butter. Stir well and leave to simmer and become thick and gravy-like. It will only take a few minutes.

4 Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and black pepper as needed. Spoon the creamy polenta into bowls and spoon the stew on top with the gravy. Serve with extra Parmesan grated over the top.