Sunday, May 8, 2011

Practicing Polenta, Try #1

 I don't know what it is about polenta that makes me like it so much. It started two years ago with the most incredible lamb dish at The Stone House's Pietra restaurant. Granted, I'm sure it had a lot of cream, butter, and rich cheese, but the splurge was worth it (especially when served over braised kale, and a topped with a meltingly-tender braised lamb shank and crisp semolina-coated onion rings).

Nowadays, I have to be careful with how much corn I eat (avoiding any corn that might be non-organic, as to avoid the inevitable tummyache), but there is always room for polenta, especially when its grown, milled, and packaged in Rhode Island.

I grew up spending my summers in Westport, Mass., where there is a wonderful brand of locally-milled cornmeal called Gray's Grist Mill. My dad would always use the cornmeal when making pancakes or waffles, to cut the flour and add some heft (and nutritive value) to the batter. Naturally, my love of Gray’s cornmeal led me to experiment with their product for making one of my favorite comfort foods: Polenta. 
While I typically make polenta with chicken stock for added flavor, I’ve started to experiment with using plain water and instead adding a variety of seasonings to jazz up the cornmeal — that is where this recipe has its roots. 

While the result wasn't anything like Pietra's, it was quite good. Armed with a fresh bag of Gray's cornmeal, I'm thinking about what's next up on my polenta experiment agenda. Maybe a polenta pizza, or something simple with goat cheese and lots of spring green vegetables and peas. Of course, creating a baked version of the addictive polenta fries Chef Matt serves up at Providence’s La Laiterie will have to happen, too.

Adapted from The Daily Meal

4 cups water or stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for mushrooms
1 bunch kale, leaves removed from stems and torn into bite-sized leaved
1/4 cup water
4 mushroom caps
2 tablespoons light white miso paste, thinned until a glaze with water
1 cup cornmeal, preferably Gray’s
8 ounces cheese, such as Gruyère

Preheat broiler to high.

Meanwhile, bring water, salt, and pepper to a boil in a large saucepan.
In a sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the kale and gently sauté until it begins to turn bright green. Season with salt and pepper and add 1/4 cup water. Turn heat to medium low and let it cook until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

While the kale cooks, lay mushroom caps, gill-side up, on broiler tray. Brush with oil and miso paste. Broil for 5 minutes, then turn broiler to low and broil 5-8 minutes longer, until tender and juicy. Let the caps rest until cool enough to touch, and then cut each cap into bite-sized pieces.
Once the water comes to a boil, add the cornmeal in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add cheese.

To serve, place about 3/4 cup polenta in each of the 4 bowls. Top each with greens and a chopped mushroom cap.

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