I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you have been making polenta wrong. Actually, this is me talking to myself ....... you may very well know how to make a delicious, velvety smooth polenta ..... I, however, have been making it wrong for a very long time.
Polenta is a wintry indulgence for me. Whenever I've tried restaurant polenta and it's super smooth, I've assumed is was loaded with all sorts of butter, milk, and cheese. Whenever I try to recreate that super smooth polenta at home, I usually end up with a sad version that seems creamy at first, but hardens quickly as it cools. I always just assumed that it was because I wasn't adding milk or cream to my polenta, and my polenta was inevitably doomed. So I put it on the backburner for a while, because nobody likes semi-smooth polenta.
So, it turns out, the reason my polenta was not super creamy, was not for the lack of milk ..... it was because polenta is happiest when it's hydrated. Those very fine corn kernels need lots and lots of liquid to be happy and tasty. Who knew? Not me apparently. Before I learned this, my liquid to cormeal ration was 3 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. After some experimenting, I found it was that creamy dreamy texture I was seeking after adding more than double that amount, a ratio of 7 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. No special stirring or equipment, just lots of liquid. Oh, and a really good (homemade) flavorful stock is a must.
Okay .... so why am I on a polenta rant anyways? Well, first of all, thanksgiving and all the other holidays are coming up and polenta is a festive, gluten-free indulgence which (using this method) can be dairy-free too. Also, I am not a huge mashed potato fan and, if I could have it my way, this creamy polenta (with all the veggies on top) would be served instead. Actually, this right here would be my ideal, festive, holiday side. Maybe add a brussels sprout dish, a salad, and a pie for dessert ... that would be my kind of holiday menu.
roasted carrots + sautéed green beans + caramelized fennel + "creamy" polenta + za'atar
6-8 as an appetizer
for the roasted carrots:
about 12 small-medium sized carrots, tops removed
salt + pepper
for the polenta:
6 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken, preferably homemade)
1 cup of polenta
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt *may not be necessary if your broth is salty enough
for the fennel + green beans:
1 fennel bulb (white part only, green parts reserve), sliced thin
about two large handfuls of green beans (tips removed)
salt + pepper
about 1-2 teaspoons of za'atar
some additional sesame seeds (there should be some in the za'atar, but I like a little extra)
Start by roasting the carrots:
- Pre-heat the oven to 425º.
- Place the carrots onto a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast for 25-30 minutes until the carrots are fork tender and starting to brown. Remove, cover (if you like), and set aside until you're ready to assemble.
While the carrots are roasting, cook the polenta:
- Heat the broth over medium high heat, and slowly pour in the polenta while stirring (the broth does not need to be boiling). Continue stirring for about a minute or two until it's starting to thicken slightly. Turn the heat to low, and set the timer for 30 minutes. You will want to stir your polenta every 5 or so minutes to make sure it's not sticking on the bottom.
- After 30 minutes, taste to see if you need any salt. Drizzle in the olive oil, stir, cover the pot, and remove from the heat until you're ready to serve. The polenta should be very creamy at this stage. If for some reason it is not, add more water or stock. Also, if you're making this ahead of time, you can let the polenta sit, covered, and to warm up just add a little water or broth and stir it over low heat.
Sauté the fennel and green beans (you can be doing this while the polenta is cooking):
- In a wok, or a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook, while occasionally stirring, until the fennel is brown and very soft. Remove the fennel from the pan and set aside.
- Using the same pan, add a little more olive oil (over medium heat still) and add the green beans. Cook them for 1-2 minutes, and then add 1/2 a cup of water. You're doing this to quick steam the green beans. Keep stirring until the water has evaporated completely, and then keep cooking until the beans have a slight brown/char on the outside. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and remove them from the heat.
Assemble the dish:
- On a large serving plate, spoon the polenta out onto a single layer. Then add the green beans and carrots on top. Finish with the caramelized fennel, a sprinkle of za'atar, and some additional sesame seeds (if you like). Serve immediately (warm).