Polenta with wild mushrooms, hazelnuts and figs
6 figs 4 dried black Mission figs, stemmed 1 cup blackcurrant juice or 100% pomegranate juice
2 cups polenta 9 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup puy (French green) lentils, rinsed and drained Freshly ground pepper 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons chopped shallot 10 oz (285g) mixed wild mushrooms (such as oyster, chanterelle, and stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and skinned and finely chopped 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme Baby lettuce, arugula (rocket), or microgreens for garnish
For the blackcurrant dressing: Reserved black currant juice (from the figs) 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard Juice of ½ lime 2 teaspoons minced shallot 1 tablespoon creme de cassis 1 tablespoon red wine 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar ½ cup (120ml) hazelnut oil Salt Freshly ground pepper
To prepare the figs: Put the figs in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the blackcurrant juice to a boil over high heat. Pour the juice over the figs and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the juice, and coarsely chop the figs.
To make the dressing: in a small saucepan, heat the reserved blackcurrant juice over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the reduction to a blender. Add the mustard, lime juice, shallot, crème de cassis, wine, and vinegar and blend until smooth.
With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the hazelnut oil and blend until the mixture is thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a squeeze bottle or bowl. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan lightly with olive oil.
In a large saucepan, combine 6 cups of the water and the salt over high heat. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly and vigorously to break up any lumps. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until very thick and pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Pour the polenta into the prepared pan and use the back of a wet spoon or a wet spatula to spread it in an even, flat layer and smooth the surface. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils. Put them in a medium saucepan and add the remaining 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Drain, then season with salt and pepper.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the mushrooms. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on a medium-high heat. Add the shallot and mushrooms and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add figs, hazelnuts, and thyme and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes.
Preheat a medium-hot outdoor grill or heat a grill pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Cut four 3-inch circles of polenta using a biscuit cutter, glass, or, in a pinch, a large can with the top and bottom removed. (Save the scraps for another use.) Brush olive oil on both sides of the polenta and grill until the bottom is browned and the polenta no longer sticks to the grill, about 5 minutes. Turn and grill the other side until browned, about 5 minutes.
To assemble the dish, first reheat the lentils and mushrooms if need be. Spoon ¼ of the lentils in a 4-inch pool in the centre of each plate. Place a polenta round on top of the lentils. Spoon ¼ of the mushroom mixture over the polenta, then top with a few leaves of the baby lettuce. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the dressing over the top and around the plate and serve immediately, with the remaining dressing alongside.