Sophisticated Savories

Sophisticated Savories

Friday, December 20, 2013


For those who have sworn off mashed potatoes because of the carbohydrates and fats, and for those who cannot eat wheat and so have said "au revoir" to pasta, then allow me to introduce you to your new best friend: polenta

Originally the name referred to crushed, ground grains and/or legumes. However, polenta is essentially boiled porridge made from cornmeal. Though basic in composition, the versatility far exceeds many other grains. Polenta may be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner:

* Use as a base for sauces, stews and thick soups, in place of a high-calorie roux

*Spoon steamed or sauteed vegetable over warm polenta and top with a light grating of cheese and herbs

*Top with your fresh, homemade pasta sauce, then add sauteed greens and protein (meats, cheese, lentils, fish)

*Serve in lieu of potatoes or rice with lunch or dinner: polenta with chicken sausage and mushrooms, polenta with beef goulash, sauteed shrimp/scallops with polenta and Manchego sauce

*Shape polenta like a pizza crust when baking and make polenta tart with tomatoes and goat cheese, pepperoni "pizza" with mozzarella cheese, white pizza with spinach and artichokes (possibilities are endless)

*Vegetarian dishes with polenta: BBQ tofu over polenta, polenta with wild mushrooms and artichokes, curry polenta with chick peas and roasted veggies

*Instead of bread in a breakfast casserole, replace with polenta

So many possibilities... so how do you cook this "much more than cornmeal mush" gluten-free food?

We live in a fast-paced, convenience-food age. While you may purchase polenta pre-made or "quick-cook," the following is a healthy, home-made version that you may make in large quantities.

Very basic polenta:

6 cups water or chicken/veggie stock
2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp garlic - mince
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, or EVOO, or 0% plain Greek yogurt

Bring the water/stock and garlic to a boil in a large, heavy-bottom pot (about 2 quart-size). Add the salt, then whisk in the polenta and stir - preventing clumps from forming. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender. While on low heat, the polenta should be "burping" about every two seconds. Stir frequently - every 10 minutes - to prevent the polenta from scorching the bottom of the pan. If the mixture become too thick, then simply add one tablespoon of water and whisk "avec énergique" (just stir like crazy!) This should not occur, but more of a "helpful hint" if anything goes awry.

After 25 minutes, turn off the heat. Add the butter, EVOO or 0% plain Greek yogurt, then stir until melted.

Spread in a 9 by 13 pan and allow to cool. You may cut into per-portioned pieces and store in the fridge at this point. If you use dairy when cooking, you may keep the polenta in an air-tight container for about 5 days. If no daily is used, then polenta will last about 7 days in an airtight container.

An idea for a composed meal? Polenta (cut into thin squares), with edamame puree, bell pepper coulis, fire-roasted tomatoes and fillet Mignon.

Pretty sophisticated for boiled porridge, if you ask me.

"He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head and his heart, is an artist." - St. Francis of Assisi


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