Summer has finally arrived in San Francisco, but given that it is the middle of October, I find myself instinctually craving cool weather foods. Polenta came to mind immediately, being a hands down favorite. My girls especially love what they call “soupy polenta,” the soft melty version that you make from scratch. I’m sure images of hovering over a stove, stirring endlessly, come to mind immediately. But alas! Let me introduce you to the quick cook polenta technique, which takes nothing more than about a half hour and a working oven.
Before we get to the preparation, a few more words about polenta. It is an incredibly versatile side dish, it compliments almost any dinner, meat-centered, vegetarian, or vegan. Of course it is healthy, not to mention nourishing in that way that only a good porridge can be.
I decided to try something different this week, serving the polenta alongside Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stollard Beans that my friend Elizabeth (who writes a stunning blog called Pastry Break) recommended. They had been languishing in the cupboard for months now, but after my recent post about homemade beans I was motivated to put them to good use. Topping things off with the last of the summer squash from our garden, sautéed with lots of garlic, I realized that I created the culinary version of the traditional Native American agricultural trinity known as the Three Sisters: squash, maize and beans.
It was hearty, delicious and simple to pull together quickly on a weeknight if you have the beans prepared in advance (which will just need defrosting and reheating time). Any beans will work. I also recommend drizzling a bit of simple tomato sauce over the polenta if you happen to have some on hand.
Preparation: Quick Cook Polenta
Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook Volume II
Preheat over to 350°
Boil at least 6 cups of water in a kettle or pot. In the meantime, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium to large ovenproof pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup polenta, and stir to coat with oil. Cook until heated through. Gradually stir in 6 cups of boiling water to the polenta – be very careful of backspray when the first cup of water touches the pot.
Return to a boil (should be almost instant) and add 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Cover the pan and place in the warm oven. Cook undisturbed for 35-40 minutes. Take care as you remove the pan from the oven, as it will be VERY hot. The mixture will look somewhat separated at this point, so whisk the polenta until it is well-blended to determine if it is done.
Mix in 1-2 tablespoons of butter, and a cheese of your choice (or skip both in favor of more olive oil for a vegan option). Serve immediately to enjoy its softest and creamiest texture. Or, chill to transform into a hard polenta dish.