I bought the DVD set of Jacques Pepin’s cooking show The Essential Pepin, and saw a recipe that I wanted to try – polenta with a vegetable stew. Meatless Mondays can be difficult when I’m running out of ideas – and I don’t want to just keep making pasta dishes, and I rarely make polenta.
I went and bought Quaker Oats corn meal, instead of instant polenta. I didn’t know the difference, but when I read the instructions on how to prepare them, both the instant and the Quaker Oats had the same instructions, so I bought the more affordable Quaker kind. And with the vegetables – Pepin remarked in the video that you can put any kind of vegetables you might have in the fridge, so I wandered through the aisles and picked out what I like. I served this dish with fake chicken by Boca – they make these great faux breaded chicken breasts – sometimes when I want to make chicken parmesan on Meatless Mondays, I’ll use the Boca (I’ll also use the burgers by Boca when I want to make a pasta Bolognese on Meatless Mondays).
This recipe was surprisingly easy to make – on the video, poor, advanced-aged Pepin was whipping the hell out of the polenta with a whisk, but it’s not that hard to do.
1/4 cup of corn meal
1 cup of broth or water
1 tbl of butter
1/4 cup of shredded cheese – last night I used a mixture of Romano and Monterey Jack
1/4 onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1/2 bell pepper, chopped finely
1 small can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms – I used a mixture of button mushrooms and those baby bellas – they’re awfully inexpensive at the Jewel’s (Albertson’s for those outside the Midwest) by my house
1 cup of broth
1 tbl of tomato paste
1 tbl of hot sauce – I used sirachi, because I love the fruity flavor, but any chili sauce would work
Cover the bottom of a large skillet with oil and a little bit of butter and heat over medium-high heat, until the butter starts to sizzle. Drop in the onions and stir continuously until they start to cook and become translucent. Drop in the garlic and continue to mix, so that the garlic gets well mixed and doesn’t burn. Cook this for about 5 – 10 minutes – try not to get the onions brown, yet – you may have to lower the heat. Drop in the chopped bell pepper and the mushrooms and continue to cook – the mushrooms will release liquid and I always raise the heat at this point, so the veggies don’t start to steam. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the ‘shrooms begin to brown. Then add the corn and continue to stir and cook over the medium-high heat, until the liquid starts to reduce and the veggies start to caramalize. Add the tomato paste, the broth and the chili sauce and mix well, to break up any of the browned bits on the bottom and continue to cook until the liquid’s reduced by about half, and is thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and keep warm.
Now, take a cup of water (or broth) and set on a high heat to boil in a saucepan. When it’s boiling, remove from the heat and immediately start stirring in the polenta. You have to stir immediately, so that lumps don’t set, and you have to stir continuously for about 5-8 minutes. Season and throw in the cheese and butter and stir until they are melted and incorporated. Season with freshly-ground black pepper and salt (if you’re using water; you won’t need salt if you’re using broth). You’ll want your polenta to be thick and velvety.
Spoon the polenta on a plate and then spoon some of the vegetable ragu over it, and serve. Oh, and enjoy!