Friday, March 2, 2012

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta with Creamy, Cheesy Vegetable "Ragu"

Polenta, or corn meal mush, is true comfort food. It's soft and warm and a great base for many wonderful toppings, both savory and sweet. It's easy to prepare, too. You simply pour corn meal into boiling liquid and stir. You can use yellow or white meal and any level of coarseness from finely ground to extra coarse. Of course, the better and fresher the meal, the tastier your final product.

I like cooking up corn meal for breakfast, adding some butter, maple sugar, and salt to the boiling water and serving it with more butter, maple syrup, and milk.

Today's recipe is a savory rendition of polenta made with broth instead of water. But you can use water, if you don't have any broth. I've added freshly grated parmesan cheese and paired the polenta with a creamy and cheesy vegetable "ragu."

I put "ragu" in quotation marks because the Italians consider ragu to be a tomato-based meat sauce, and there's neither meat nor tomatoes in my topping. Nevertheless, it's thick and rich and loaded with tasty vegetables from today's CSA box.

You might want to make (or start) the vegetable ragu first, as it can sit while you cook up the polenta. Polenta hardens as it cools and may reach a point at which it will be difficult or impossible to turn it back into a creamy mush. However, polenta is often allowed to firm up and then cut into pieces. So you can serve it this way, if you prefer.

Creamy, Cheesy Vegetable Ragu

1 T butter or olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2-3 C broccoli florets
4 C chopped kale
1 C cream or whole evaporated milk
1-2 T sherry wine, optional
1/2 - 1 C finely grated parmesam cheese, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter or heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute, covered, until the onions are translucent.

2. Add the carrots and shiitake and continue to cook covered for 3-5 minutes, until the carrots are not quite tender.

3. Add the broccoli and kale and continue to cook covered until the broccoli and kale turn bright green and the kale has become soft, about 2-4 minutes. The vegetables should exude some moisture while cooking, but if the pan is too dry, you can add 2-4 T water or broth.

4. Add the cream and the sherry. Turn up the heat to medium. Remove the cover and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.

5. Add the cheese and stir until the sauce is creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can reduce the sauce even more if you'd like it to be thicker. When it's the desired thickness, cover the pan and turn off the heat.

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
4 C broth of water
1 C corn meal
1 C finely grated parmesan cheese, or to taste
more salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the butter, olive oil, salt and broth or water into a medium saucepan and bring the water to a rolling boil.

2. Gently add the corn meal, stirring constantly to break up any lumps.

3. Turn the heat to low or medium-low and stir constantly until the polenta begins to thicken. Then lower the heat and cook the polenta, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes.

4. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese until melted and combined.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in more salt, if needed, and lots of black and white pepper to taste. Although you don't have to stir constantly, stir regularly until the polenta reaches the desired thickness, such as when it holds its shape spooned onto a plate or bowl.

To assemble: Re-heat the vegetable ragu, if necessary. Spoon the polenta onto a plate and top with the vegetable ragu. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

If you'd like, you can add a sprig of rosemary to the polenta as it cooks. Take it out before serving.

Today's bounty included:

From Underwood Family Farms: Artichokes, green cabbage, green kale, turnips, purple carrots, broccoli, butter lettuce, spinach, and escarole;

From Weiser Family Farms: Parsnips, French Fingerling potatoes, and rutabagas;

From Jaime Farms: Cauliflower, celery, red beets, Persian cucumbers,carrots, zucchini, red romaine, oregano, marjoram, tomatoes, and eggs;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia: Zutano avocado.



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