The Polenta Space

23 Feb

Perhaps it started months ago, when all of us New Yorkers were, under our breaths, cursing winter… I wanted winter… I craved winter… I wanted thick hearty foods… Gooey, sticky braised meatsGrainsSoupsRoastsPastasBreads.


It was during this time, when winter was shyly avoiding our fair coast (and this may seem silly) that we discovered polenta. Yes, that’s where the silly comes in. Discovering polenta? That’s like saying we discovered North America, yet, we (The Boy and I) had missed polenta. We were into grits, and risottos, and pastas cooked like risotto, and grains cooked liked risotto… but polenta had been but a momentary blip on the radar.

When I made the boar, the weirdness of the polenta having arrived in a shrink-wrapped sausage-like packaging totally outweighed my lust for creamy, delicious grains. It’s only been since moving, when I go grocery shopping on my lunch break that I discovered the utter, Nobel-deserving amazingess of 5-minute (and $2.49 a box!) instant polenta.


Radishes, Carrots, Polenta, Mint

5 minutes. Perfect, creamy, tasty polenta.

And last night I did a comparison against pasta. For basically the same size serving, polenta has about half the calories and carbohydrates (if you’re into that kind of thing) and slightly less fat than regular white wheat pasta. This comparison came about  after dinner, The Boy asked me, “So why aren’t we eating polenta two or three-times a week?” I tried to make it about health concerns, and I was sorely beaten into submission.

So, what’s my point? Polenta is an incredibly delicious and elegant blank canvas.

On Sunday, coming back from a shopping mission in the city, The Boy and I got into a discussion on cooked radishes. We conjectured as to whether they’d be any good cooked and decided it might be worth trying. We roasted them with carrots because I thought their sweetness would offset the radish’s bitterness, but it was totally unnecessary.

Roasted Radishes & Carrots

Radishes, when roasted, loose all of their bite. All. None. I found on the Internet those that praise the taming of their bite, but, uh, excuse me, the beauty of radishes is their bite. They were still delicious, but I must admit, I was a wee bit disappointed. I planned the meal around their assumed acerbicness. The carrots for sweetness. The polenta for smoothness. The ricotta for creaminess. All that aside though, it was a nice meal. The mint added that something extra, the perfect interplay with all the earthiness (I promise that’s the last -ness).

Conversely however… Braised escarole and polenta.

Suburban Brooklyn

The escarole had been purchased as supporting character in my Green & Gold soup, but had proved unnecessary. It sat in the crisper all week waiting for its turn as the star in a good after-work dinner. Finally, last night, it happened. The Boy minced garlic and washed and chopped the greens. When I got home all I had to do was brown the garlic in good olive oil, add the escarole and homemade stock and make the polenta.

The result? Something I hope Molly would approve of. She recently discovered escarole as a salad green, which was the only way I knew it until this past Christmas. My mom served it to us braised and I was gobsmacked. For thirty years she had served it to me as only a salad green. She’d been holding out on me.

Sauteed Escarole & Cheesey Polenta

Raw escarole is lovely, somewhere between romaine and radicchio, but the application of heat coaxes out a demure silkiness that I find tantalizing. The greens grasp the garlic and turn limpid in the hot oil yet retain a delightful crunchiness that is just so much more exciting than spinach.

Cooked for 7 minutes and served over creamy polenta with a dusting of pungent Romano cheese, it is the very best sort of weeknight dinner. Fast, healthy, utterly, seductively delicious.

So why haven’t we been eating this dish 2 or 3 times a week for the past 6 months? I don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to work hard at rectifying.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Roasty Toasty Radishes & Braised Escarole.

Serve both dishes over instant polenta. The brand I have calls for a 4:1 ratio of liquids to corn meal.

For the roasted dish I used 1/2 cup Moscato wine and 3 1/2 cups water with Mushroom Better Than Bullion dissolved in it.

For the escarole dish I used my own homemade chicken stock.

To both I added a few dollops of ricotta cheese. Why? Because it was there and makes it taste really good.

Roasty Toasty Radishes

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: about 1 hour

  • a few bunches of Radishes, washed, not peeled and cut in half
  • 1 bunch Carrots cut into chunks of a size equivalent to the size of your Radishes
  • a few cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Mint, washed and cut in a chiffonade
  • cooked Polenta

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the the radishes, carrots and garlic in a roasting pan and toss with a glug of olive oil and liberally season with salt. Roast for about an hour or until the radishes begin to shrivel and the carrots look caramelized.

Serve over polenta and garnish with the mint.

Braised Escarole

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 1 head Escarole, washed well and sliced into ribbons
  • a few cloves of Garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Chile Flakes
  • Salt
  • about 1/3 cup homemade or good quality canned Chicken Stock

Heat a healthy glug of olive oil in a large skillet. Cook until just becoming garlic. Add the escarole. Turn to coat. Season with salt and chile flakes to taste. Add a glug of the stock when the escarole begins to wilt. Cook until stock has reduced by about half, 5-7 minutes.

Serve over polenta with a dusting of Romano cheese and some freshly ground black pepper.



17 Responses to “The Polenta Space”

  1. Lisa (Homesick Texan) February 23, 2007 at 10:38 am #

    I’m sold! It’s time for me to jump on the Escarole bandwagon and I’ll search for some at the market tomorrow. And thanks for the endorsement of instant polenta. Every time I’ve made it, I’ve done it from scratch, dutifully standing at the pot stirring for half an hour. Rewarding, but tedious. I love it though, so perhaps if I used instant I’d eat it more often.

  2. s'kat February 23, 2007 at 11:10 am #

    I’ve never had polenta. I’ve never had escarole.

    Something needs to change!

  3. Lydia February 23, 2007 at 11:15 am #

    I’m a total convert to both polenta and escarole. I cook the escarole in soups or just saute with garlic and olive oil and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Oh boy.

  4. Tanya February 23, 2007 at 1:01 pm #

    oh, goodness, that looks amazing. it may be *almost* enough to get me over my fear of polenta.

  5. Andrea February 23, 2007 at 1:30 pm #

    Radishes had been on my “things to roast” list. Thank you for trying it out so I now don’t! I also was curious about glazing them in sweetness, like you would for carrots.
    I love polenta.. But I agree. For some reason when I am thinking up dinner options, why “polenta” doesnt’ come up more is a mystery..

  6. Molly February 23, 2007 at 1:40 pm #

    Oooh, I can’t wait to try that escarole! I’ve even got some good homemade chicken stock in the freezer – what luck. I’ve been sort of flash-sauteing my escarole, cooking it quickly in a hot, hot pan with some olive oil and finishing it with a squeeze of lemon. But I love the thought of this braising method…

    Thank you!

  7. Callipygia February 23, 2007 at 2:40 pm #

    I completely agree about the escarole thing. I have a complete addiction to Italian Wedding Soup which is essentially good chicken broth with escarole, tiny meatballs and orzo. Ive been eating the stuff cooked ever since.

  8. ann February 23, 2007 at 5:53 pm #

    WOW! I had no idea how rampant polenta-phobia was!!

    Lisa(HT) — It’s funny, I’ve been looking for the longcook stuff, and all I can find is instant… We’ll have to trade sources (mine’s Garden of Eden)

    s’kat — this weekend,you and chef, escarole and polenta… I bet Sirius would love licking the spoon!

    Lydia — I’ve got to try it in a soup now! Sounds amaaazing!

    Tanya — don’t fear! Love the corn! It’s here to nourish you ;-)

    Andrea — You have a “things to roast” list?!? AWESOME!!! Can I see it?? please?!? That’s the awesomest thing I’ve heard all week!

    Molly — The lemon is such a nice idea! It would really brighten the whole meal up. Thanks!!

    Callipygia — Now there’s a soup for me! I’ve got to try that as soon as humanly possible. I’ve always heard the name but never knew what was in it. Thanks!

  9. sher February 23, 2007 at 9:09 pm #

    Deborah Madison does a lot of cooked escarole. Your dish looks fabulous! Yum!

    And what wonderful news about polenta, which is one of my all time favorite things to eat. I guess part of my love is that growing up in the South, I ate grits every morning and they are a kissing cousin of polenta.

    Loved the pictures–as always!! :):)

  10. Toni February 25, 2007 at 3:38 am #

    Well, just looking at the photo of the roasted radishes and carrots sitting on that polenta is enough to make me drool!! I actually have learned to love polenta. But you’re right – it’s a blank canvas. It’s great when you add imagination as well as a few other ingredients.

    And braised escarole? Never would have thought of that one. Looks scrumptious! I’ll have an order to go, please!

  11. ann February 26, 2007 at 9:02 am #

    Sher — Grits are amazing. I still haven’t figured out if there is, in fact, any actual difference between grits and polenta. It’s a mystery!

    Toni — It’s funny in a good way. People never think of cooking pale greens like escarole and lettuce, but it used to be very popular.

  12. guido February 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm #

    ann, thanks for steering me over here
    great site!
    I’m nosing around polenta the home game too
    and I can’t stand those weird sausages of it
    creamy polenta is better anyway
    Stone Park has it with sage and rock shrimp and taso
    and I aim to duplicate . . .

  13. Virginia February 27, 2007 at 6:13 am #

    I don’t think my little guy reads well enough yet to be on this Web site, but when I asked him yesterday what he wanted for breakfast, he put on his best dramatic Russian face, sighed longingly and said ….”Polenta.”

  14. Marce February 27, 2007 at 11:39 pm #

    yummy! another good idea for polenta y making it quite ticker than usual ahead of time, letting it cool down and then slicing it and grilling it with some olive oil as a side dish for any sort of meat: that´s how many Italians eat it. Plus, you can top it with some confit tomatoes and parmessan cheese after grilling it… ok, drooling over here, so I´ll stop, my point was, grill some polenta, you´ll be oh so happy.

  15. izzy's mama February 28, 2007 at 10:52 pm #

    Once again, you have tempted me with your recipes. First I made that pot-roasted chicken last week. Yesterday, Izzy and I made the bread and the polenta. It would never have occurred to me to have bought the five minute variety. I always think one must do everything the long way. You proved me wrong. I made mine with broccoli rabe and garlic. A hit!

  16. Julie March 11, 2007 at 11:05 am #

    I never make polenta because my husband swears he doesn’t like it. But this looks so good I’m inspired to try it just to confirm my husband doesn’t like polenta. Or maybe make a convert of him.

  17. Clumsy November 19, 2007 at 12:12 pm #

    I was converted to polenta about a year ago… and now you’ve turned me on to escarole… I can’t wait to try it!! Thanks :D

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