Monday, June 20, 2011

Polenta with Rustic Tomato Sauce and Roasted Asparagus

According to Wikipedia, the word polenta comes from the Latin puls or pulmentum.  Those roughly translate to grain mush or gruel.   That's why we prefer the Italian polenta - it just so much tastier, even if it is the same thing.

In Roman times, it was made with farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, or chickpeas.  Lucky for us, at the same time, they were cultivating corn in North and South America, so if you've had polenta, you've likely had it made with corn meal.  And you likely know that like many other grain-based dishes, it goes with just about anything - including, as we re-discovered last night, rustic tomato sauce and roasted asparagus.

Polenta (inspired by How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)

You'll want to get the polenta started first, because it takes the longest.

1 cup course cornmeal (we used Bob's Red Mill Corn Grits)
Heavy pinch of salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon sunflower oil

Combine cornmeal, salt and pepper
Bring water to a boil

Once the water is boiling, add the polenta in a steady stream, whisk as you add it to avoid lumps

Turn the heat down and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently

This is where you have a choice to make.  Polenta can either be served as a porridge or grilled.  If you're serving it as a porridge, you can stop when it gets to the consistency you want it.  We decided to grill it.  If you're going to grill it, make sure it is fairly thick, about the consistency of thick oatmeal.  Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray, and pour the hot polenta into the pan.  As soon as you take it off the heat, it will start to solidify, so you'll have to act fast.  Let it cool for at least another 10-15 minutes (it can sit for longer if you want to make it ahead of time).

 When you're ready to eat it, cut into about 1/2 inch slices, brush with olive oil, and put it in a hot pan or on the grill until it's crispy on the outside.

 Rustic Tomato Sauce

28 oz. Trader Joe's canned whole plum tomatoes with basil
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 onion
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 red dried chile (can use 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes)
1 Tablespoon capers
1 capful of Vermouth
salt and pepper

Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil until they're fragrant

Add tomatoes and spices

Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes

Blend with an immersion blender until it's the consistency you want it.  We left it pretty thick.  (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can blend it all in the food processor before cooking it.  It would also be good in big pieces).

Add the capers and vermouth.

Roasted Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 500 degrees

Prep the asparagus - if you have woody stalks, cut those off, and peel the thicker stalks so that all of the asparagus is about the same thickness

Drizzle oil over the asparagus and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste

Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes


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