I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve had my recently pregnant sister and parents spend a wonderful four days living with me in my apartment. I got a good laugh out of my dad when I told him he was the lucky man to be #1 staying the night in my bed. My classmates and I planned, cooked, and served a five course meal for 50 of our closest friends and family (see pictures below). I gave a 45 minute cooking demo and turned in my final paper, almost 20 pages single-spaced on Enhancing Health through Yoga Practice and Food Choice. I felt like Rachel Ray as I demonstrated the brilliance of a pressure cooker while simultaneously explaining the nutritional benefits of broccoli.
Most recently I finished a three-day pre and post natal pilates workshop. I have always been really interested in the whole process of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. After day two of the workshop, a gracious girlfriend of mine treated me to a congratulatory dinner at The Front Porch to celebrate me acing my final and graduation. The meal was extremely dense and satisfying– fried chicken, crab cakes, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, hush puppies…
During my family’s visit, we ate, ate, and ate. We achieved a new record at Tartine. I was getting used to two whole -fat lattes a day. Treats from the Ferry Building, burgers and fries with dad, the whole bit. After things had settled down, I told my sister it was a good thing they left because I felt like I was going to explode from all of the wine, lattes, and just plain ol’ caloric consumption. In order to attempt a balancing act this week, I made this polenta dish. I feel like the restaurant gorging gets a bit addictive and I don’t necessarily just want to eat a salad. This is a good balancing dish to bring the body back to its normal state without feeling like you are starving. My sister Audrey gave me the idea to cook polenta over the stove first, then finish it in the oven in a cast iron pan. A major plus of this recipe is that it makes awesome leftovers. I made it for a girlfriend last week for dinner and brought it for lunch all three days during the workshop. The other gem quality is you can add any influence, theme, or twist.
I have gone two ways with this so far:
- Topped with pesto, caramelized onions, sautéed spinach, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, tomato
- Topped with chimichurri sauce, caramelized leeks, chopped kale, goat cheese
I like a simple salad to accompany. Next time, I want to try a mexican theme and use salsa, Monterey jack cheese, green chiles, roasted red pepper, and spinach. I would also serve that with a side of black beans and guacamole. The sky is endless here, it could easily turn into the whatever-veggies-are-in-the-fridge type of dish. This type of recipe puts responsibility in the hands of the cooks– it is a springboard to get the taste buds going.
Skillet Polenta with Veggies
Because polenta is a corn product, it is gluten free. Giving your body a break from gluten can help to stabilize and decrease inflammation. I use old-fashioned Golden Pheasant brand and decrease the water by 1/8th because I want to make a slightly drier version, so when served it retains more of its shape. I cut pieces in triangles, sort of like pizza, as opposed to spoonfuls if the polenta is cooked more liquid-y on the stove. A version that is more wet is OK because it will still taste awesome and after refrigeration it will solidify and then be OK to cut into desired sizes. I have also made the polenta ahead of time, put it in the cast iron pan, then when I was ready to serve dinner a few hours later, finished it in the oven. If you are looking to increase nutritional density in your diet, use stock instead of water to cook the polenta. My favorite topping is caramelized leeks and onions that I sautéed in a separate pan while the polenta cooked. Have fun and experiment with what veggies and toppings are in season or are left in the fridge.
- 1 cup dried polenta, rinsed
- 3 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 T butter
- Cook polenta over the stove top, bringing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently. Use a double boiler if possible to avoid any sticking on the bottom of the pan (So far I’ve lost polenta on every batch because I don’t use a double boiler and make this for girlfriends and while chatting, it sticks. Don’t panic, just don’t scrape, that way the burnt pieces stay on the bottom). Add more water if needed. You are cooking until the polenta is no longer gritty and becomes soft, about 20 minutes.
- Coat the the bottom of the cast iron pan with butter, then place the remainder of the butter in the polenta and stir until melted.
- Evenly distribute the polenta in the cast iron pan. Top with desired toppings, starting with a spread (pesto, chimichurri, salsa, etc) and follow with the rest.
- Bake at 375 until the cheese is bubbly and veggies and cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.