Sunday, June 6, 2010
I Can Make the Sun Shine
The closest I can come to recreating that happy, yellow, golden ball of warmth in my kitchen is polenta.
Polenta has a history as a peasant food, and is often the case, has now transitioned into something fancy-schmancy. Lobster is another peasant food that has made this transition (it used to be prison food!) but thankfully polenta hasn’t seen the same price increase, therefore making it a very favorable option in my kitchen.
It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s versatile. It’s gluten-free. It’s a whole grain. It’s a happy, sunshine-yellow, comfort food.
The recipe is incredibly basic, which allows for numerous adaptations to suit what you have in the pantry or are craving. Take coarsely ground corn meal, slowly stir into simmering liquid, and gently stir until done. Even easier than a box of anything you can buy in the store!
Below is the basic recipe, and then a couple of my recent concoctions. Take a look in the cupboard, think about what you want to make a happy belly and then get cooking!
1 cup polenta
4 cups simmering liquid
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
Bring liquid, salt and butter/oil to a simmer in a sauce pan. Slowly stir in polenta. Turn heat to medium low and cook until done, 10-30 minutes, stirring frequently, especially at the end. Cooking time depends on the coarseness of grind of the corn. It’s done when it makes lava-like bubbles that gurgle and blop, the corn grains are soft and it is becoming gelatinous. If you want a softer result, add a cup or two more liquid. As the polenta sits, it will firm up.
When done cooking, pour into a baking dish and allow to cool. Then slice and serve, warm or cold.
Customize your sunshine!
The first way to customize is your choice of liquid. Water works just fine, but chicken or vegetable broths add a lot of flavor. Milk makes an extra creamy polenta. Or a combination of any of those. I recently used the drippings from a roast chicken and water.
You can stir in anything flavorful near the end of cooking: 2 Tbsp fresh minced herbs or 1 tsp dried, a minced jalapeño, a can of green chilies, several cloves of roasted or fresh garlic, a handful of finely sliced green onions or chives, a flavored oil, chopped sundried tomato., sliced black olives, crumbled bacon, cubed ham or bits of sausage, slices of roasted red pepper decorating the top.
Cheese makes everything better in my world. For those who can tolerate dairy, when the polenta is finished, stir in 4 oz of cubed cream cheese or a cup of shredded cheddar. Or both! Or try 1 cup of shredded parmesan or top with spicy pepper jack or smother in smoked gouda.
Cut into fancy shapes with cookie cutters and serve alongside a salad, like a crouton. Grill slabs on a well oiled grill and serve with baked beans and barbequed meat or grilled vegetables. Pan fry slices and serve in a pool of enchilada sauce, topped with black beans. Bake cheesy polenta slices until golden brown and top with sautéed green beans with garlic and almonds.
Smother in a sauce. Spaghetti sauce, pepperoni and black olives on top can satisfy a pizza craving very well. Left over gravy from a roast turkey or chicken. Nacho cheese sauce if you are craving that neon orange cheese satisfaction. Sautéed mushrooms in a wine reduction.
Get as fancy or as ghetto-fabulous as you like.
My most recent concoction used the drippings from a roast chicken mixed with water to make 4 cups of liquid. 6 cloves roasted garlic (that roasted while the chicken roasted) with a handful of fresh thyme made a rich tasting polenta that had lots of chicken-flavored goodness with the hearty satisfaction of garlic and herbs.
My go to recipe is a pint of broth plus enough water to make 5 cups liquid. Add polenta and cook until still loose in consistency. Stir in 4 oz cubed cream cheese until melted. A little extra salt makes the cream cheese really pop and you have sunshine clouds of cheesy bliss.
Polenta is a blank canvas for your creation. Play with your food, paint yourself a sunny picture and enjoy the sunshine-yellow even if it is grey outside!