I have had a large jar of cornmeal sitting in the pantry for over a year. It makes periodical appearances, usually when I am making pizza and I need to dust the baking sheet with it. Sometimes I think I will make corn bread, but it never seems to happen, because corn bread without bits of bacon in it is pointless, and usually I don’t remember to save a strip of bacon on the rare occasions I have it, because I’m busy gobbling it up and smacking my lips.
But then one weekday lunch hour, I remembered: polenta!
I don’t think there is a huge difference between corn meal sold as “corn meal” and corn meal sold as “polenta,” though I imagine that can vary depending on brand. Polenta is basically porridge made from corn, and as easy to make as oatmeal. With a generous dab of butter and a sprinkle of salt, it is a super fast and easy component of a delicious meal – and comforting! It slides down smooth and keeps you warm during your afternoon nap. Alongside we ate zucchini roasted with olive oil, and a pesto of broiled red peppers, walnuts, parsley, a dry old hunk of Parmesan and more olive oil. We used some crusty sourdough to wipe the plates clean. Look ma, clean dishes!
Bring one cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add half a cup of cornmeal, and stir with a spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. If the polenta seems too thick, add splashes of water. When the little grains of cornmeal seem puffed up and a little translucent, it is done. Take it off the heat and stir in a good-sized blob of butter and a sprinkle of salt. This makes about 2 servings. It is quite filling, so each person doesn’t need too much.
Next time, I want to make a beef brisket or a juicy steak and serve it with roasted veggies on a fluffy bed of polenta. Mm hm.
Red pepper walnut pesto
Cut 3-4 red peppers in half and de-seed them. Place them cut side down on a baking sheet and broil them in the oven until the skins are completely black. Tip them into a bowl and cover with a plate or plastic wrap; this steams the peppers so it is easier to peel off the blackened skins. Meanwhile, toast a good handful of walnut pieces in a heavy pan on the stove, stirring occasionally so they brown evenly. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and toss them into a blender or food processor with the walnuts, a generous bunch of parsley, and a hunk of Parmesan that is double the size of your index finger. Add a glob of olive oil, and pulse/blend until it reaches your desired consistency. (We just got a Vitamix and since we are in love with it, everything has been blended into submission for the past little while). This makes more than you need for a single lunch, so store the rest in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. Try it tossed with pasta or stirred into rice.