Posts Tagged polenta

Kale & Green Garlic with Cheesy Polenta

Going into this month, I knew it was going to be nuts. I had a baby shower to throw, the Montavilla farmer’s market Grand Opening to plan and attend, a wedding to coordinate, and my own wedding anniversary to celebrate.

All of these are incredibly wonderful things. I’m going to be an aunt for the second time! A dear friend got married to a man who makes her so very happy. The farmer’s market that I volunteer for opened for another great season. And last, but certainly not least, I get to celebrate being married to my best friend for two years. I’m a lucky lady.

But all of these wonderful things do require a bit of time and energy, and somehow I never seem to have much of either. In the midst of all of this, I’m working full time, attempting to write a food blog, and am desperately trying not to kill my garden. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. But when life hands you crazy, just whip up some kale and polenta. That’s what I always say. OK, if I’m being honest, I’ve never said that before in my entire life. But, the moral of the story is this: when you have an incredibly busy schedule and you have kale growing like weeds in your garden, you should take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and make a delicious and satisfying kale dinner.

So that is precisely what I did. I picked a big bunch of Red Russian Kale from my garden, and quickly sautéed it with bacon, green garlic, onion, and lemon. I whipped up a quick batch of polenta, stirred in some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and proceeded to eat a large bowl of cheesy-bacony-polenta-and-kale goodness. The meal was so satisfying, flavorful, and comforting. And, it took all of 15 minutes to cook!

In the midst of all the craziness, I took the time to sit down to dinner with my husband, enjoyed a glass of wine, and allowed myself to breathe. It was just what I needed.

I know I’m not the only one out there who struggles with being over-committed and busy. Its the world we live in. I’m sure many of us are are in the same boat – scratching our heads, pouring over our calendars and wondering how we managed to book up the whole summer before it even started. Life has a funny way of quickly spiraling out of control. It happens. So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the complexities of life, I challenge you to slow down. Take the time to sit down to dinner; to enjoy a meal with friends or family. Everything else can wait.

And, of course, if you’re in need of a little inspiration I do declare that this is the perfect meal to make when you’re pressed for time. Its so good, in fact, that I’ve already made it twice this week!

Kale & Green Garlic with Cheesy Polenta
Serves 4

1 large bunch of Red Russian Kale (or other green, such as Chard), washed, de-stemmed, and roughly chopped.
4 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 heads of green garlic*, minced
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
Red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste

*Note: Green garlic can be found at farmer’s markets at this time of year. It is much milder than regular garlic, so it isn’t overpowering. If you can’t find green garlic, substitute 1-2 cloves of regular garlic.

Heat large pan or skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add bacon pieces. Cook until fat has rendered and bacon has begun to crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel.

Return pan (with bacon fat) back to the stove. If you have really fatty bacon, you may need to pour off some of the fat (You want about 1 Tablespoon of bacon grease left in the pan). Cook onions and diced green garlic in the bacon fat until tender, about 3-4 minutes. At this point, add in kale and squeeze lemon juice over the whole pan. Cover, turn down to medium-low, and allow kale to cook and steam for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, checking to make sure everything is cooking evenly. Once the kale has fully wilted (8-10 minutes), add bacon back into the pan. Squeeze a bit more lemon juice over the mixture, and season with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes.

Remove from heat, and serve kale and green garlic mixture over cheesy polenta.

For the polenta:
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup polenta (or corn grits)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine water, salt, and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring water to a boil. Once water is boiling, pour polenta in a steady stream into the water, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to whisk. Stir until polenta is thickened, but creamy (8-10 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and butter, mix until incorporated. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed (Note: I like my polenta to be quite peppery.)

Lemon Polenta “Fries” with Hazelnut Romesco

There are certain recipes that just speak to me.

These recipes jump off the page and say: “Lindsay! Make me.” And I say, “Well, OK then.”

This was one of those recipes. I was making my usual blog rounds, and noticed that my friend and fellow Portland blogger, Adrien (of Her Hungry Heart), had posted a recipe for Lemon Polenta Fries with Hazelnut Pesto. It all looked and sounded so delicious. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that the recipe could be easily altered to fit within my Lenten diet. Score!

Adrien’s use of hazelnuts in her pesto sauce reminded me that I, too, had a bag of hazelnuts that I’d been wanting to use. But, rather than stick with the pesto sauce, I decided to go in a slightly different direction. I set out to make a hazelnut romesco.

The idea came from a trio of hazelnut recipes written by famed local chef, Naomi Pomeroy (For those unfamiliar, Naomi has a fabulous restaurant in Portland called Beast, she’s been a competitor on Iron Chef America, and is rumored to be a contestant in the next season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters). A friend had printed out Pomeroy’s hazelnut recipes for me a few months ago, and ever since I’d been wanting to make her hazelnut romesco. For whatever reason, I just hadn’t gotten around to it! So, then, when I saw Adrien’s recipe, the pieces all fell into place. I knew exactly what had to be done: polenta fries with hazelnut romesco.

Now, all I needed was an excuse to make this delicious dinner.

The excuse ended up being a random Thursday night. There was a Blazer game on TV and my friend Mari came over to watch the game. That was all the excuse I needed! Delicious dinner + friends + Blazers = a perfect Thursday night.

Everything turned out splendidly. I made a vegan caesar salad to go along with the meal, which rounded everything out so nicely. The polenta fries were crisp, with just a hint of lemon. The romesco sauce was packed with flavor – it was rich, sweet, smoky, and spicy. (Nich has since declared that he could eat romesco every day. I guess this is one of those recipes that we’ll be making often.) Overall, we had a fantastic night. We ate like kings and the Blazers won. What more can you want? ;)

I will mention that while the meal wasn’t difficult to make, it did take a bit of prep time. You could easily make some of the elements ahead of time (i.e. make the romesco sauce the night before), but overall I felt the meal came together relatively easily.

Lemon Polenta “Fries” with Hazelnut Romesco
(Polenta fries adapted from the lovely Adrien at Her Hungry Heart, Hazelnut romesco adapted from Naomi Pomeroy of Beast.)

For the polenta:
1 cup polenta (aka corn grits)
3 1/4 cups cold water
zest of 1 lemon
Dash of cayennne
Dash of paprika
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons butter (or vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance)

Lightly great an 8″ square baking dish with olive oil.

Mix cold water & polenta in a small pot. Whisk often, over high heat, until the mixture comes to a boil. Once the mixture has reached a boil, turn the heat down to low and stir the polenta continuously with a wooden spoon. When the polenta starts to pull away from the side of the pan (about 10 minutes), stir in lemon zest and butter/butter substitute. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika.

Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish, and spread into an even layer. Chill, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour (until cool & firm). When set, unmold the polenta and cut into slim sticks. (Note: I cut some of the polenta into rectangles to make grit cakes, and the rest I cut into slim sticks to make ‘fries’. Both Nich and I agree that the fries cooked more evenly and had a better texture.)

Place polenta ‘fries’ on a lightly greased baking sheet and broil until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Turn the fries over and broil the other side until golden, about 8 minutes more.

Hazelnut Romesco
(Adapted from Naomi Pomeroy)

**Romesco sauce is a roasted red pepper spread that is usually made with almonds, stale bread, and a variety of spices. This particular version uses hazelnuts, which I think give it a unique and wonderful flavor.

2 red bell peppers
2 dried red Mexican chilies or 1 tsp red chili flakes (Note: original recipe calls for 2 dried ancho chilies, which you then reconstitute and make into an ancho chili paste. I didn’t have ancho chilies and used whatever dried red chilies I had on hand. Personally, I’m of the opinion that you could probably just use red chili flakes and skip making the chili paste altogether.)
3/4 cups roasted hazelnuts (skins removed, preferably)
1.5 tsps smoke paprika
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large piece of crusty white bread
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt & pepper, to taste

*If you decided to make/use ancho chili paste as opposed to chili flakes do the followingg: To make paste, add boiling water to 2 dried ancho chili pods. Allow to soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Remove pods from water and puree, adding a little extra water to make a paste.

Cut crust off bread and brush with olive oil. Either toast in the oven or in a skillet until golden brown and crisp.

In a food processor, combine hazelnuts, garlic, toasted bread, salt, and spices. Mix until a dry paste forms. Add chili paste, roasted red peppers, tomato paste, vinegar, and olive oil until a smooth paste forms. Add extra olive oil if you would like a thinner consistency. Taste and adjust spices as needed.

*Romesco also works wonderfully as a dip with rustic bread, or as an accompaniment to various proteins, such as pork or chicken. We actually made romesco sandwiches with the leftovers!