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.
It is a daily challenge to make a healthy dinner instead of grabbing takeout from the many tempting places in our neighborhood. And I do love to cook. But when we don’t plan ahead, and it’s 8 p.m. and the hangries are coming on… well, a kebab or a wok stir-fry someone else has prepared starts to look pretty appealing.
Sometimes I give into takeout’s siren song, and I enjoy every bite. But I know it’s not great for our budget or our health to do it as often as it crosses my mind, so I try to have a few easy recipes to draw from that I actually look forward to.
The wok takeout places are our default for fast food: you choose your noodles, your sauce and your protein, and they stir-fry it to order with veggies. It’s tasty and cheap, and because it has vegetables in it, it feels healthier. But I’ve been working on making our own version at home with whatever we have on hand. It’s cheap, it makes a ton – so we have leftovers for days – and it’s delicious and much less greasy than the takeout version.
If we have chicken, I’ll add it to the hot wok first, browning it on all sides, and then adding the veggies. But more often, I’ve been making it with just veggies. If you use a good portion of something hearty like squash or sweet potato, it’s really filling (even meat enthusiast Brian agrees) and a great way to use up produce you don’t want to spoil.
The “recipe” below is just a basic framework. I do it differently every time, and it’s very forgiving and adaptable. I’d love to hear any variations you try!
Thai Curry Veggie Stir-Fry
- Fresh vegetables, cut into cubes (suggestions include: squash, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers)
- ½ can- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 package rice or egg noodles
- Curry paste or powder
- Soy sauce
- Sriracha hot sauce
- Ginger, garlic, fresh basil or cilantro (optional)
- Heat a small amount of oil over medium-high heat in a wok or large pan.
- Add the heartier veggies that will take longer to cook (such as squash and potatoes) and stir-fry until they start to soften a bit. If they begin to stick to the pan, add a little more oil, water or broth.
- Add the rest of the veggies, as well as curry paste/powder, soy sauce, ginger and garlic (if you’re using them), and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, stirring well to mix in the spices, and let simmer until the veggies start to become tender. Season with soy sauce and hot sauce to taste.
- Meanwhile, boil water for the noodles. When the veggies are just about done, cook noodles until al dente (usually 1-2 minutes).
- Drain noodles and add them to the veggies (along with fresh herbs if you’re using them), mixing well and turning off the heat.
- Serve with extra herbs and hot sauce.