I grew up in Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington DC. Did you know I never knew Virginia was still considered part of “the south” until we moved to Pennsylvania before my junior year of high school??!! I mean, I’d had all the Civil War history lessons, and I knew it was “the south” then, and “the south” during the Civil Rights Movement, but that was the past, right?! When we moved, everyone at school asked me if I were from Virginia, why didn’t I speak with a Southern accent?
I have also since come to learn that calling my mom’s friends “Miss Trina” and “Mr. Stuart” and “Miss Irene” and “Mr. Joe” is a very Southern thing, and culinarily speaking, Southerners love their biscuits, pies, sweet and salty combos, and creamy things (ie. cream of wheat, creamy grits, creamy puddings and custards and creme brûlée and such)…so it’s good to know I often cook to my roots. I remember my stepdad loved eating grits for breakfast, but I had no idea grits and polenta were pretty much on the same family tree. Grits is cornmeal cooked with water or milk, and it turns out grits is “poor man’s polenta”.
Polenta is just a coarser ground cornmeal, and used to be peasant food in Italy, but it’s been gaining ground as a super yummy upscale restauranty item. I still have yet to try and make polenta fries like I ordered at Riverhorse in Park City with that amazing roasted beet salad. You can have creamy polenta and top it with all sorts of things, or you can pour it into a pan and cut it in strips or circles or squares and then grill it or fry it and it’ll be crispy crunchy on the outside and oh so creamy on the inside.
I was originally going to try Del Sroufe’s Polenta Pizza with Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Potatoes, but decided to turn it into creamy polenta and top it with pesto (is it bad that I still have homemade pesto in my freezer from my garden two years ago?), caramelized onions, green lentils, potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. If I’d had fresh basil, I would have put some on top. Fresh garden, I need you!–Definitely next year’s numero uno project!
CREAMY POLENTA WITH PESTO AND POTATO HASH
Adapted from Del Sroufe’s Forks Over Knives Cookbook
- 1 cup coarse ground polenta
- 1/2 cup green lentils
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 3-4 medium sized red potatoes, diced
- 4 tablespoons of your favorite pesto
- 1 large tomato, diced
- sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional)
- First prepare the polenta and lentils. If you start with the lentils, you can let them simmer while you get the rest of the components ready. Heat 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup vegetable stock in a medium pot. One it reaches a boil, turn heat down to low and cover the pot; allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender and liquid is absorbed. Keep watching the lentils to make sure the liquid isn’t absorbed too quickly. You may need to add 1/2 cup or so of more of liquid, if needed.
- For the polenta bring 3 cups of water a 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a medium pot. Have 2 more cups of water ready. Once the 3 cups water is boiling, add 1 cup polenta to the pot, stirring constantly, and immediately turn the heat down to low. Over the next 20-30 minutes, gradually add the 2 cups remaining water to the polenta and stir frequently. The polenta will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pot. [It’s true–cornmeal cooks pretty quickly and looks like it’s ready after just 5-10 minutes of stirring, but it’s important to cook it for the complete 30 minutes–it totally changes the texture to smooth and creamy. I also like to add a dab of butter and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese and stir it all up.]
- To make the caramelized onions, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let saute, stirring occasionally over 20 minutes or so, until the onion is cooked down and golden brown.
- Saute the diced potatoes in another pan, with a few tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir every so often until they are golden brown.
- To serve, put a good scoop of polenta in your bowl, then a few tablespoons of your favorite pesto, the caramelized onions, the lentils, potatoes, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.