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.
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.
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.
We fell in love with arancini – Sicilian fried rice balls – when we lived in Naples (the ones filled with meat sauce are my favorite) and have been dying to try this New Orleans variation for some time.
Do yourself a favor, and take the following steps immediately:
Make a huge pot of gumbo – we played around with a combination of recipes (one from our friend Kathleen and one from The New Orleans Cookbook) – and invite people you like to come share it with you. This is an excellent idea for, say, a football game. Bonus points if it’s the Saints game.
The next day, make these gumbo-filled arancini, and prepare to be amazed.