Polenta with Roasted Vegetables
Farmer’s Markets are brimming with the harvest of summer vegetables: zucchini, squash, onions, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, carrots, beets, and more. With temperatures warming up, a dinner plate of fresh roasted vegetables with polenta is the perfect summer feast.
Choose 4 or 5 vegetables and grab a cast iron pan, and you’ll have the makings of a deeply satisfying meal. Fresh polenta is the perfect accompaniment to roasted vegetables but if your tastes run more towards rice, quinoa, couscous or pasta, that works, too.
There are three distinct steps to this recipe but they can be done simultaneously because one (polenta) requires a long cooking time on the stove, one (the sweet potato) requires a long cooking time in the oven, while the other (vegetables) require a shorter more labor intensive time on the stove. Most people don’t like to cook polenta because it takes nearly an hour to make and stirring is required. But, if you’re already at the stove cooking vegetables, then it doesn’t seem so bad. And, the finished product is so much better than the ready-made stuff at the grocery store.
Polenta with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)
- 1 cup cornmeal for polenta (I use Anson Mills yellow flint cornmeal, available at www.ansonmills.com)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Seasoning of your choice to top the polenta (I use a combination of dried chili peppers)
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced in a slant
- 1 medium red onion, sliced
- 1 medium yellow tomato, sliced
- 1 medium red tomato, sliced
- Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 large sweet potato or jewel yam
Let’s talk about polenta first. Often described as cornmeal mush, corn porridge, or moist cornbread, polenta has a coarse grit-like texture that gives this side dish body. Choose cornmeal wisely because taste varies greatly and it’s impossible to ascertain the flavor of the cornmeal by looking at the grain. You really have to taste great polenta to know if it’s great so buy cornmeal from a trusted farmer or vendor. Don’t buy those tubes that look like corn sausage in the grocery store or bags filled with cornmeal harvested and milled last year. Cornmeal needs to be fresh (store in the freezer) and without additives. The goal is to taste sweet corn and you need great cornmeal to do that.
Truly good cornmeal for polenta becomes even more important for the cook who doesn’t rely on butter and parmesan cheese for flavor. The emphasis is on the corn and as with most things, good polenta is about the taste, not the looks.
Anson Mills of Columbia, South Carolina grows and harvests two types of corn – white and yellow flint corn – specifically to be used to make polenta, which is easy to make: simply put a cup of polenta in a pan with 4 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Stir constantly for 5-8 minutes until slightly thickened and then reduce the heat to low to maintain a low simmer, stirring frequently for about 45 – 50 minutes until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon. Whisk in the salt and scoop onto a plate (makes 4 servings) and top with your favorite seasoning. Add roasted vegetables to the plate and some freshly chopped parsley and dinner is ready.
While the cornmeal is cooking, spray the cast iron pan with olive oil and heat on medium-high. When hot, reduce the heat to medium. Place each vegetable – in this case zucchini, red onion, and tomatoes – one type of vegetable at a time in the pan and brown for 2-3 minutes each side (the zucchini and onions require the longer time while the tomatoes require very little time). Gently remove the vegetables and place on a doubled paper towel on the countertop.
Baking a Sweet Potato
Prepare a large sweet potato by placing a few piercings in the skin and then centering on a parchment or aluminum foil covered pan. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for one hour or until the center is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes and then remove the skin and either slice or puree.