Polenta, much like risotto & tall blonde women, used to intimidate me. It seemed elusive, and anything that requires constant stirring leaves room for missteps. But then I made it, and it’s about as easy as boiling a pot of pasta.
Part of its mystery was that I simply didn’t know what it was. Let’s lay the rumors to rest. [Are there rumors about polenta? Probably not. I just woke up; forgive me. I just had a dream about getting a pet fox, so I'm pretty sure my reality-meter isn't calibrated properly yet.]
Polenta is coarsely ground cornmeal. Grits are similar except that they’re usually made from hominy (corn kernels soaked so the outer layer comes off). Polenta contains the kernel too, so it’s inevitably coarser and has a stronger corn-like flavor. So… Polenta = cooked cornmeal.
I cleaned my pantry last week and found one of those bulk bags of polenta, so it’s time I start cooking it more frequently. Polenta is versatile; you can boil it and then roast it in the oven, so it’s firm. You can eat it for breakfast with honey, like porridge or oatmeal. Top it with marinara for an interesting pasta substitute. And here’s my favorite: you can boil it, add a little cream or butter, and use it as a substitute for mashed potatoes. (I know. Who doesn’t love creamy starches…)
I’m going to make Parmesan Polenta tonight and top it with Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic. A hearty, relatively healthy vegetarian meal. Go light on the cheese to cut the fat, or sub nutritional yeast if you’re vegan. Happy polenta making! xo, m
Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Recipe from Gourmet
3 cups water
3/4 cup instant polenta (you can buy medium grind cornmeal in the bulk section or a box of polenta in the pasta section of the supermarket)
3/4 to 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Optional: garnish with chives
Bring water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan and slowly add polenta, whisking constantly. Cook polenta over moderate heat, whisking constantly, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic
Serves 6 as a main course
Recipe from Gourmet
1 1/2 lb Broccolini (sometimes called baby broccoli; 3 bunches), ends trimmed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cook broccolini in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until stems are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, then drain in a colander.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté half of garlic, stirring, until pale golden, about 30 seconds. Add half of Broccolini, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and repeat with remaining ingredients.