Creamy Fall Polenta
Posted on October 18, 2016
Has the cooler weather made you crave creamy comfort foods
that would have otherwise been too rich just a few weeks ago? Now is the
perfect time to start making porridges, gruels and slow cooked grains for
breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever you need a belly-warming fix.
While cream of wheat, oatmeal and rice congee quickly come to mind when
thinking about this food category, polenta falls squarely within the realm as
well. Not just confined to premade plastic-sheathed tubes of firm, sliceable
cooked cornmeal, this Italian specialty in its most basic form is simply stone-ground
dried corn—coarse cornmeal—that is simmered in liquid until it is transformed
into a thick porridge that is neither runny nor completely stiff. To give it
some flavor and richness, the cooked polenta is often finished with a rich
addition of dairy fat (a pat of butter, a drizzle of cream, a scoop of
mascarpone or a spoonful of crème fraiche) and a generous sprinkling of cheese
(most often a hard grating variety, such as Parmesan).
The final product can be placed in a bowl, topped and eaten
right away. Alternatively, it can be poured into a baking dish in an even layer,
cooled, cut into pieces, and pan-fried—a better homemade version of the packaged
stuff. The recipe below is a straightforward version of porridge-style polenta
that is paired with an easy, flavorful kale and mushroom topping, which cooks while
the polenta simmers. Put together, the components make a wonderful base for a
one-bowl dinner when you add whatever protein you happen to have on hand.
Eating it for breakfast? Put a fried egg, crumbled bacon or breakfast sausage
patty on top. Lunch? Try adding shredded rotisserie chicken, seared shrimp or poached
salmon. For a heartier dinner entrée, top with sliced steak, meatballs, roast
pork slices or a few pieces of leftover pot roast. If you’re aiming to stay
vegetarian but still need some protein, pair with some pan-fried marinated tofu
slices or braised lentils/beans.
The beauty of this dish lies in the fact that it is
customizable in a variety of ways. The kale can even be replaced with chard,
collard greens or spinach, and the mushrooms swapped out for bell peppers or halved
cherry tomatoes. It’s all up to you!
Creamy Polenta with Kale and Mushrooms
If you are making this dish to serve 1 or 2 people, do not
halve the recipe. Instead, pour the remaining polenta into a container or
baking dish, cover and refrigerate until firm. These leftovers can be sliced
and pan-fried. If you wish to eat the polenta in the style of porridge again,
warm it up in a saucepan with additional liquid until it is reconstituted to
your desired consistency.
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. minced garlic
8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. ground fennel
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the broth,
water and 1 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil. Add the polenta in a slow, steady stream,
stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Lower the heat to
low, cover and cook until the polenta is thick and starts pulling away from the
sides of the pan, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a large skillet over
medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened and lightly browned, 3 to
4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring
constantly. Transfer to a small bowl.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet and raise the
heat to medium-high. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned and their liquid
has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the kale, fennel, 1/4 tsp. salt and a pinch
of pepper. Sauté
until the kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shallot mixture.
4. When the polenta is done cooking, remove from heat. Stir
in the butter and Parmesan. Divide the polenta among 4 serving bowls and top
with the kale-mushroom mixture.
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