Monday, May 23, 2011

Making Polenta

Vegetable stock and polenta
In the last month or so, we've been eating a lot of greens: the arugula and turnips have done incredibly well in our community garden plot, and once the CSA season began, we started getting spinach, chard, mustard greens, three different kinds of kale, and more arugula. This sudden abundance has challenged our creativity--we've made curries (both Indian and Thai), used greens in pasta, had wilted greens as a side, but still sometimes had more greens than we knew what to do with, and wanted to expand our repertoire. Every now and then, we'd buy pre-made polenta in the plastic sleeves, at about $2.50 per pack. Matt would
Garlic scapes and green onion
slice it up and fry it in a pan with garlic and olives, adding the greens at the end, and wilting them--and it makes for a very good light lunch or appetizer. And then one day, I had an epiphany: the "grits" (also known as coarse-ground cornmeal) sold in the bulk section of our coop is polenta! I don't know why it took me so long to realize this--maybe because I don't like grits (something about the mushy texture), and have never associated squishy grits with the crispy-on-the-outside and savory polenta. Whatever the reason for my previous oversight, I'm glad that I've made the (mental) leap because polenta is incredibly easy to make and so cheap!
Quick sautee in olive oil and salt

Adding stock
Not only is polenta cheap, but versatile, too. The spices and the liquid ingredient can be varied according to the occasion. What I had on hand were green onions, garlic scapes, and vegetable stock. (Remember when I said that I "wasn't thrilled about canning the stock?" I take it back. I've used up almost all of the seven quarts of stock--some has gone into soups, but my polenta discovery will have me using stock much more often, for sure.)

The basic thing to keep in mind about polenta is that the liquid to grain ratio is about 3 to 1; you could use water for the liquid, and as long as the polenta is organic and good quality, the final result would probably be wonderful. As I was making this particular polenta, I kept thinking of the flavor combinations that I could make in the future; sun-dried tomato and basil (or oregano); cilantro and jalapeno; pumpkin and thyme...
Polenta gets pretty thick; keep stirring!

Allowing the polenta to firm up
All this talk about polenta, and no recipe yet. What can I say, I got carried away contemplating it!


  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 2 garlic scapes (or a clove or two of garlic), minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil (or other herbs)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2/3 cup of water (as needed)
  • 1.5 cups polenta/ corn grits/ coarse-ground cornmeal
Sauté the onions and garlic scapes in olive oil for a few minutes, just until they're starting to cook. Add the salt and herbs, stir to combine flavors; pour in the stock and bring to a steady simmer over medium-high heat. Once the stock is simmering, add the polenta in a slow and steady stream, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula for 25-30 minutes. As you're stirring, be sure to stir from the bottom of the pot, as the polenta will become quite thick quickly--and you want to both keep it from burning and keep it cooking for the full time, or else it will be too gritty. Add as little as 1/4 and as much as 2/3 cup of water during the cooking process--the polenta should be quite thick, but not too thick to stir effectively. At the end of the cooking time, taste and adjust spices; take the polenta off heat and transfer into a greased 8"x8" (or a 9"x9", depending on how thick you like it) baking pan, and allow to cool for a couple hours.

After the polenta cools, you can slice it and store in an airtight container for up to a week, refrigerated. As I mentioned earlier, to fix it, just fry some up with more garlic, onions, and greens. You can also decrease the recipe and use 1 cup of polenta for 3 cups of liquid, but (personally,) I like a thicker slice of polenta.

Polenta is also something that is often sold locally, and thus could be a delicious platform for an almost all-local meal.

No comments: