Polenta Crostini Bites with Caramelized Mushroom Cicchetti – Venetian Tapas

Polenta Mushroom Crostini

Tapas!  I love these little bites!

On a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, a group of friends and I went to an incredible and authentic tapas eatery where I first enjoyed Spanish tapas.  It was an amazing experience, both culinary and culturally!  I was thrilled to be able to experience these wonderful little plates in 1994 when few Americans had heard of these little dishes yet.  Tapas were not yet a mainstream food item!

Although tapas are beloved by many today, a lot of people don’t know that Venice, Italy also has a culinary tradition of tapas known as ‘Cicchetti’ — aka:  Italian tapas!

Cicchetti are simple, small ‘little bites’, and are often quite salty since Venetian cuisine was founded on salt because of it’s location on the Adriatic Sea (think:  salt-cured sardines, anchovies, cod, and more).  So for Italian tapas, or ‘chicchetti’, you need a strong salt element to excite the taste buds . . . freshly ground sea salt is my favorite to use in the kitchen.  The custom of Italian cicchetti is similar to Spanish tapas – appetizers eaten to offset drinking alcohol in the afternoon or early before the evening meal. There is a strong Mediterranean influence in all tapas:  olives, anchovies, sardines, and garlic served on little breads, such as Italian crostini.  It’s easy to understand why Venetian ‘cicchetti’ are often compared with the much-loved tapas from Spain.

For this week’s dinner theme of “Tapas” I prepared some flavor-packed Polenta Crostini Bites with Caramelized Mushrooms.  I bet you can’t eat just one!  These are absolutely delightful!  Enjoy!

Polenta Crostini


Polenta Crostini Bites with Caramelized Porcini Mushroom Cicchetti
For the polenta:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. finely ground sea salt
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 - 2 cups freshly grated Italian Fontina cheese, plus more to pass around to guests
  • 1 - 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish and to pass around to guests
For the mushrooms:
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ pound porcini mushrooms, diced
  • Finely ground sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 long, thin loaf of Italian or French bread, sliced thin, toasted, drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with fresh garlic
Cook the polenta:
  1. In a medium, heavy pot over high heat bring the cream, stock, and sea salt to a boil.
  2. Add the polenta gradually, whisking constantly.
  3. When the mixture thickens, switch to a wooden spoon and adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer.
  4. Cook, stirring often, until thick, smooth, and creamy, about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the Fontina and Parmesan cheeses.
  6. Keep the polenta warm over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  7. If the polenta gets dry as it sits, stir in about ¼ cup of cream at a time, until it reaches your preference of wetness/dryness.
Saute the mushrooms:
  1. In a medium skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil.
  2. When the oil is hot, place the mushrooms in a single layer, and do not stir!
  3. Cook the mushrooms to a sizzling point until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 - 3 minutes.
  4. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss them once and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook without stirring for about 5 minutes.
  5. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the butter and cook until it begins to brown.
  7. Then add the garlic.
  8. Continue to cook until the garlic begins to brown, do not burn the garlic.
  9. Add the thyme and cook for about 10 seconds more.
  10. Add the lemon juice and cook until it evaporates.
  11. Add the wine, and simmer until the mushrooms are glazed with the sauce.
  12. Add the parsley.
  13. Then stir and remove the pan from the heat.
  14. Place about 1 tablespoon of warm polenta on each little slice of toasted bread (crostini).
  15. Place about ½ teaspoon of the mushroom on top of the polenta.
  16. Garnish with grated Parmesan and minced Italian parsley.
  17. Serve immediately.
Polenta Crostini Bites
When I was in Venice, I shot this photo of a typical ‘bacari’ where Venetians go to nibble on ‘cicchetti’ with a glass of wine or cocktail.



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  1. says

    Roz these are so FABULOUS !! Great for entertaining any gathering!! We love tapas, and so many Tapas restaurants are opening up all over the country! I very first time I went into a Tapas place was in Austin, Texas in 2006 when my daughter Annalisa worked there as the 5 pm. News Anchor for CBS in Austin. The second time, I really became familiar with tapas was when my husband and I took a trip to Barcelona, Spain in 2008. Nowadays, we find these wonderful little tapas places opening everywhere. It’s funny, going to Italy and visiting Venice, so many times, I never really looked at the Italian bars as little tapas places ( as Italian tapas style! )…But they are!! LOl…. Grazie per la ricetta!
    2 Sisters Recipes recently posted..Peppermint Mocha LatteMy Profile

  2. says

    Such beautiful photos! I wonder if the term cicchetti comes from cicchetto, which in colloquial Italian means “drink/shot”? Maybe they are called cicchetti as they would be eaten with a drink as aperitivo? In any case, I wish I could reach one of those crostini through the screen and eat it right now! :-)

  3. says

    Oh, what fabulous food! It looks so tasty, and with the texture of the polenta and the depth of flavor of the mushrooms, they must be great. I say yes, please! Complimenti!

  4. says

    Polenta is my childhood comfort food. =)
    But I can’t get my husband to like it. I ought to try your recipe and maybe I ll finally get him to switch to the polenta side of life =)

  5. says

    Oh, my, Roz! Your crostini bites sound incredible! I could pop a whole lot of these babies in my mouth :) So happy to have you join the SS group this week!!!

  6. says

    Oh Roz – this is my favorite way to eat – small bites. Unfortunately, husband likes complete meals. I’d rather graze on these polenta bites all days. Love polenta with mushrooms – what a grand pairing. Happy New Year to you and congratulations on the new addition to the family A baby does change everything – in the best possible way.
    Claudia recently posted..Rosemary BreadMy Profile

  7. says

    Oh my! This looks amazing!! You had me at caramelized. Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. I am pinning it and hope to make it soon. I’ve never tried making polenta before so that will be a fun new experience. I have been thinking about you today as we have been hearing about all the snow there. I hope all is well with you and your family.
    Shari Kelley recently posted..Pasta PuttanescaMy Profile

  8. says

    Can’t wait to try these! I have been trying to give up my obsession with pasta and polenta has helped me with that! I recently topped mine with broiled tomatoes, capers, and asparagus! Great blog!

    • says

      Thanks so much Dragna! I always make extra polenta for the next day to “fry” and ladle bolognese sauce over it for dinner . . . it has to be a day old. But I’ll make note of that in the post and thank you again. I’m glad that the dinner party guests enjoyed the crostini!

      Roz recently posted..St. Patrick’s Day “Green” Recipes My Profile

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