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.
As previously reported, we recently joined a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We had a couple of reasons for doing so, but one of them was to push ourselves into cooking with things we don’t normally buy.
Challenge number one: Beets.
Neither of us had any experience with buying and/or cooking beets, so when basket #1 arrived with two of them we did what reasonable people do: we left them on the counter for days hoping they would prepare themselves to be eaten.
This did not work, and eventually we took to the interwebs to look for creative solutions, and I was surprised to find there are lots of amazing-looking dishes to be made using beets.
Not really following any one of them in particular, the beet preparation went like this:
The end result is pictured above and turned out surprisingly well.
The moral of the story is get out there and try cooking with something new, even (or especially) if you don’t know where to start with it. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, but playing with a new ingredient can open the door to a variety of other ways to prepare it.
Now I’m actually looking forward to the next time beets show up in the basket so we can make something crazy, like beet and goat cheese ravioli.
I have a very important announcement to make. Brian and I just joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It’s just a few blocks away from our apartment in the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona, I walk by it every day and I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to sign up.
Every Tuesday will henceforth be known as “Christmas.”
Els Bandolers de Gràcia
El Carrer Verdi 12
Phone: 93 217 27 85
Monday to Thursday: 11:00 – 22:00
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 – 15:00, 17:00 – 22:00. Closed Sundays.
Els Bandolers de Gràcia is a great little store where you can buy produce and local artisan products, such as wine, beer, honey and chocolate. The produce comes from local and organic farms in Catalunya, and the CSA is a fantastic deal. Here’s how it works:
1. You sign up and pay a 30-euro registration fee, which includes two baskets – cestas – (you trade an empty one for a magically full one each week).
2. You choose either Tuesdays or Thursdays to pick up your cesta.
3. You pay each week when you get your basket. We signed up for the pequeña, which is still a ton of food for two people and costs 13 euros. The media is 18.50 euros and the grande is 28 euros.
We are only two weeks into our membership, and I already notice an improvement in our enthusiasm and creativity with preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s like a game show: race against the clock to figure out A) what things are and B) how to combine them in an edible fashion.
Mystery greens? Braise them with pancetta, olive oil and balsamic! Potatoes and onions? Breakfast fries! Insanely delicious ripe plums? Eat as many as you can in one sitting, then make a quick stovetop jam with the rest before they go bad! Everything else? Throw it in a pot, you’ve got yourself a stew!
If you’re looking for a CSA in Barcelona, this place is glorious.