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.
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.
One thing Americans – and New Orleanians in particular – do exceptionally well is brunch. Long, leisurely, mimosa/cocktail-fueled, this-is-my-only-plan-for-the-day brunch.
Say what you will about our excess and indulgence… in this case, I support it.
We have recently started hosting meals through EatWith – a website that allows you to share meals in people’s homes all over the world. It’s basically Airbnb for dining, and when we first moved to Barcelona, being a guest was a wonderful way to meet new people and eat delicious food. And since we pretty much already do this kind of thing on our own (two extroverts who really love food and parties), it made perfect sense for us to become EatWith hosts.
Last weekend, we hosted our first New Orleans brunch and made one of my all-time favorites: grits and grillades. I had never had grillades (or grits for that matter) until I moved to NOLA. It’s a slow-cooked meat dish – made with beef, veal or pork – in a thick, flavorful gravy, served over creamy, buttery grits. So a light, healthy breakfast.
It’s easy to make, but it does take a long time to cook, so I advise making it the day before. The flavors are even better the next day, and all you have to do is reheat it and make the grits before people come over (you’re going to want to have people over: it makes a ton). We made our own chicken and beef stock, but you can also use store-bought.