My starch choices were in a rut. Rice, noodles, rice, noodles, rice, rice, noodles. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I like rice and noodles slathered in sauteed veggies. It was time for a change. Time for a new starch base for my meals. Something versatile that could be used multiple ways and saved well as leftovers.
Well hello there, polenta.
Apparently in yet another nefarious plot to convince people that cooking is hard, grocery stores carry pre-cooked polenta in tubes. Polenta = corn meal + water + stove. A whisk is useful. It’s not brain surgery. The night I made it we had creamy polenta with pesto:
The pesto wasn’t the traditional mix of basil and pine nuts, it was arugula and micro basil from the CSA with walnuts. It’s got a bit more bite than regular pesto, but I liked the contrast with the buttery polenta. I added a little sliver of leftover boucherondin cheese on top and served it with a lightly-dressed green salad.
1 cup polenta, grits, or coarse-ground corn meal (different names for the same product)
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.) Bring water to a boil in a medium pan. Add salt and return to a boil. Add corn meal, whisking vigorously to prevent clumps. Return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, and cook for 30 minutes until polenta is very thick.
2.) When polenta is ready, serve warm with a pat of butter and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.
3.) Lightly grease the inside of a shallow baking dish (9×9-inch or similar). Pour any leftover polenta into the dish, smooth the top, and refrigerate, covered.
Whatever polenta we didn’t eat right away I refrigerated. The next day I cut some into cubes and used it like corn version of American fries for a breakfast bowl. All I did was heat some oil in a skillet until very hot, added the cubes of polenta, and shook the pan every few minutes to flip them over. Once they were golden brown, I tossed in a spoonful of leftover pesto and mixed them together to coat.
A diced pretty heirloom tomato made a colorful addition and a poached egg kept me full until lunch. A sprinkle of salt and pepper was all it needed. The crispy-sweet polenta, bitter pesto, rich egg, and juicy-tart tomato made for an invigorating start to my day.
Yields about 3/4 cup
about 2 1/2 cups (packed) arugula
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
optional: 1/2 cup basil or micro basil
1.) Place half the arugula in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until mostly broken down. Add garlic, walnuts, salt, lemon zest and juice, and another handful of arugula. Pulse again. Alternate adding olive oil and arugula, processing thoroughly, until a thick paste is formed. Stir in cheese.
A few days later I needed a quick lunch, so I took the last piece of polenta and fried it until slightly crispy then nestled it on a bed of arugula, topped it with another poached egg, and added some avocado and strawberries for contrast and color. I arranged the arugula and sides while the polenta and egg cooked, so it took no more than 10 minutes to whip this up.
creamy polenta (see above) refrigerated overnight
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1.) Place a skillet over medium heat. When drops of water flicked in the pan sizzle, then evaporate, add oil or butter. Allow to heat for about 30 seconds and tilt to coat the bottom of the pan.
2.) Add a square of chilled polenta. Allow to cook 2-3 minutes without moving. Shake pan to release and use a spatula to flip it over. Cook until golden brown.
That original half hour spent making one batch of polenta yielded dinner for two plus three more meals for me. The organic corn meal I used cost me $4.40 for a 5 pound bag. The single cup of corn meal I used weighed less than 6 ounces, so the polenta portion of this endeavor cost just over 31 cents. Divided over those five meals, I think it was half an hour well-spent.
How do you use polenta?
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