If you want to offend an Italian, refer to polenta as “Italian grits.” I’m guessing. I’ve never actually had the guts to do this, after getting burned making a similar wine faux pas a few years ago:
Me: I love Primitivo wine. I think it’s made from the same grape as Zinfandel, which we produce in my hometown in California!
Primitivo Winemaker: **look of disdain/horror** We have been making Primitivo wines for thousands of years. It is not the same as this Zinfandel.
Me: …… [nods/ hangs head in shame/ holds out empty glass for more]
But really, polenta – long a staple in Northern Italian cuisine – is just coarsely ground cornmeal. Just like grits. Depending on where I’m living and what’s available at the store, I use Italian polenta and American cornmeal interchangeably. Both are easy and affordable to prepare. Both make a rich, hearty porridge when cooked in liquid. And both absolutely benefit from generous helpings of butter, salt and cheese.
In wintertime, I love to serve polenta with braised short ribs or some other meaty sauce. But as the weather gets warmer, polenta is an ideal base for lighter vegetable-based dishes. This version combines simple roasted spring veggies with creamy, cheesy polenta. I advise making extra for leftovers.
Goat Cheese Polenta with Roasted Vegetables
Fresh vegetables*, cut into 1-inch chunks:
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 8 oz/ 226 g snap peas
- 16 oz/ 453 g button mushrooms
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 medium onion
- 2 small zucchini
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup polenta, or coarse-ground cornmeal
- 4 cups water
- 6 oz/ 170 g goat cheese
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan + extra for garnish
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper
- 16 oz./ 453 g jarred or homemade marinara sauce, heated
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/ 204 degrees C.
- Place vegetables in 2 roasting pans: the asparagus and snap peas in one pan, and the rest of the veggies in another (the first pan might not take as long to cook as the heartier vegetables). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until veggies are lightly caramelized and tender.
- Meanwhile, start the polenta. In a saucepan, bring the water to boil over medium heat. Add a dash of salt, then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking to break up lumps. Let polenta cook, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and thick and starting to pull away from the edges of the pan (around 20 minutes). Stir in butter, goat cheese and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the polenta onto plates or shallow bowls. Top with marinara sauce, roasted veggies and grated Parmesan.
*You can vary the veggies depending on what you have, and what’s in season.
I love artichokes. I get a huge kick out of seeing their symmetrical little shapes all stacked up at the market this time of year. Growing up in California, I gorged myself on them… and I burned the roof of my mouth more times than I can count because I can never wait for them to cool down before digging in.
Until recently, I would order fresh artichoke dishes in restaurants, but I would never prepare them at home. They just seemed like too much work, and canned artichoke hearts are pretty fantastic. But it’s artichoke season, and we keep getting beautiful artichokes in our CSA basket. I am racked with guilt every time I neglect them and they go bad, so I started playing around with this pasta.
The ingredients are simple, but they complement each other so well. The artichokes are earthy and buttery, and the lemon adds a touch of brightness. And cream and Parmesan are always a good idea; use just a little for a lighter dish, or be heavy-handed for a decadent, creamy sauce.
To be clear, you can make this pasta with canned artichoke hearts, and it will be delicious. But if you have some in-season artichokes just begging to be used… well, here you go.
Lemony Spaghetti with Artichoke Hearts
- Olive oil
- 3-4 T. butter
- 8 oz./226 g dried spaghetti
- Zest of 2-3 lemons
- 2 T. lemon juice (plus more for cooking artichokes)
- Generous splash of cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 6-8 whole artichokes (or 1 can artichoke hearts)
- Cook artichokes. If using whole, fresh artichokes, roast them with garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice according to this recipe. If using canned artichoke hearts, rinse and drain them. Sauté the hearts with 1 T. of butter, a spoonful of minced garlic and a splash of lemon juice. Roughly chop and set aside.
- Boil a large pot of salted water. Cook pasta until just shy of al dente.
- Meanwhile, melt 3 T. butter in a large skillet. Add lemon zest and cook for a couple minutes. Pour in cream. Use tongs to add the cooked pasta, lemon juice, artichokes and Parmesan. Toss, adding a few spoonfuls of pasta water to thin the sauce if needed.
- Season with salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Serve with additional Parmesan and lemon zest on the side.
All I want, all winter long, is a big bowl of body-warming, soul-soothing soup. And usually I want it instantly, with next-to-zero work on my part. Ramen is the magical concoction that satisfies both of these desires.
I make it a little differently every time, depending on what veggies and toppings we have in the house. It is delicious in its simplest form – broth and noodles – but I love it even more when we have greens, mushrooms, sprouts, soft-boiled eggs and other fixins to add for flavor and texture.
Feeling a little chilly and also a little lazy? Go fix yourself a steaming bowl of broth, noodles and veggies. You deserve it.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-inch piece of ginger, minced
- 3 T. white miso paste
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- Soy sauce to taste
- Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste
- 1 T. mirin, white wine or vermouth (optional)
- 1 tsp. 5-star spice (optional)
- About 8 oz / 227 g dried ramen noodles
- Dried shitake mushrooms
- 1 bunch Swiss chard or spinach
- Bean sprouts
- Green onions, diced
- Cilantro, chopped
- Sesame oil
- Sesame seeds
- 4 soft-boiled eggs
- Soak mushrooms in warm water until they soften (20-30 minutes); rinse and drain. Slice mushrooms.
- Heat sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook garlic and ginger for 2 minutes, then add miso and cook for another minute. Add broth, a splash of soy sauce and Sriracha, 5-star spice (optional) and mirin (optional).
- Stir in mushrooms. Bring the broth to a simmer and season to taste.
- While broth is heating, boil water in a separate pot and cook noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water; set aside.
- Add greens to the broth and cook for a few minutes until wilted.
- Put a serving of noodles in each bowl, ladle soup over the top, and garnish with toppings.