I have had friends over for lunch on two separate occasions recently. Both times our kids were out of school, and we were able to enjoy our girl time catching up while our kids played. Also on each occasion, I was inspired by dishes that incorporated polenta – one baked in the oven and one pan fried and placed on a salad. I’m not sure why I was in a particularly polenta-ish frame of mind, but I do know both dishes were delicious and both were perfect for a casual and relaxed ladies lunch.
BAKED POLENTA WITH FONTINA AND TOMATO SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup of chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can of peeled whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
2 cups grated Fontina cheese
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Saute until vegetables are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, parsley and oregano, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 3 cups, gently breaking up tomatoes with a potato masher, about 15 minutes. Mix in basil. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Brush an 8×8-inch baking dish with olive oil. Bring 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in another heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thick and cooked through, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Spread 3/4 cup of tomato sauce over bottom of prepared dish. Pour half of polenta (about 1 1/2 cups) over. Sprinkle with half of cheese, then 3/4 cup sauce. Spread remaining polenta over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with 3/4 cup sauce and let stand for 2 hours at room temperature (I didn’t prepare enough in advance to let sit for that amount of time, and put it straight into the oven).
Heat oven to 350F. Bake polenta until heated through, about 25 minutes. Let polenta stand 10 minutes and serve.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
WARM PUMPKIN SALAD WITH POLENTA AND CANDIED PUMPKIN SEEDS
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
7 1/2 cups water
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup pepitas
1 tablespoon pomegranate juice
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 (2 pound) pumpkin, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 (6 ounce) piece of parmesan
8 ounces of arugula, trimmed
Bring cornmeal, water and 2 1/4 teaspoons salt to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until polenta is creamy and tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and cool slightly.
Spoon polenta onto center of a lightly buttered large baking sheet, then spread evenly into a 10-by-7 inch rectangle (about 1/2 inch thick). Cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours.
CANDY PUMPKIN SEEDS
Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in sugar, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then cook, without stirring, until caramelized. Add pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until seeds are puffed and golden. Transfer to a plate to cool. When seeds have hardened, break up any clumps with your fingers.
Whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, and shallot and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.
Heat oven to 450F.
Toss pumpkin pieces with 1 tablespoon of oil and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow baking pan and arrange slices in 1 layer. Roast in the middle of the oven until just tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil to keep warm.
FRY POLENTA WHILE PUMPKIN ROASTS
Cut polenta into 3-inch squares, then halve each square diagonally. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet until hot, then cook polenta until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer as cooked to a plate and keep warm, covered.
Shave strips from parmesan with a vegetable peeler.
Toss arugula in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Place on plates, then top with several pieces of pumpkin and a piece of polenta. Sprinkle with candied pumpkin seeds and top with parmesan shavings, then drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
Recipe adapted from Epicurious