Okay. So it’s Tuesday. But it’s Fat Tuesday, which is all about indulging in conspicuous consumption before the Lenten fast. I’m not sure what this week’s recipe has to do with conspicuous consumption, humble and simple as it is. But polenta is capable of complementing, and starring in, a huge variety of dishes. It’s become ubiquitous among culinary creatives. Maybe that’s conspicuous enough to qualify it for a Fat Tuesday offering.
Like most other foods, fresh, homemade polenta beats packaged polenta in terms of flavor, texture and liveliness. Polenta can be creamy or firm, depending on how much water you cook with. It is incredibly simple and inexpensive to make. Although some recipes call for hours of cooking time, and the results will likely be discernibly different after a lot of cooking, making polenta doesn’t have to be an hours long project. Some recipes utilize a double boiler, while others do not. There are lots of variations. I’d recommend trying different methods to see which you like best.
Polenta is a fantastic culinary chameleon. It pairs well with so many different dishes. Spoon some vegetarian chili over it, serve it fried with any hot soup (minestrone is perfect, although most soups pair well with it), use it in place of pasta. One of my favorite local restaurants serves polenta fries. You can also add embellishments to it while it’s cooking: pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, whatever you have on hand.
Here’s one of my favorite quick breakfasts: Sauté dark, leafy greens (kale, chard, collards, etc.) with a minced shallot and a little bit of water until soft. Serve over a wedge of polenta and top with a poached, soft-boiled or over-easy egg.
Here’s a basic recipe I found online. This one is as simple as can be, and calls for a relatively short amount of cooking time. I found it at allrecipes.com. The original recipe does not call for butter or salt; these are my additions, but well worth it. Have fun exploring creative ways to use your polenta!
3 cups water
1 cup corn grits
1-2 T butter or Earth Balance if you’re vegan
1-2 t salt, to taste
- Bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Pour in polenta steadily, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until polenta is thickened. It should come away from sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon. This can take anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. Pour polenta into a pie dish or pour onto a wooden cutting board. Let stand for 10-20 minutes until firm.
There’s no gluten in corn, so polenta is naturally gluten free. Choose good, organic, GMO-free corn grits. There are lots of good brands, but you can often find what you need in the bulk bins at Whole Foods.