February 15, 2005
One of the staples I usually keep in my pantry more often than pasta is polenta. It's faster and easier to clean up because you can cook quite a lot in a small saucepan. I also enjoy scooping out big warm bites of creamy polenta from my bowl with a spoon. There is something much cozier and more comfortable about that than twirling spaghetti onto a fork.
You also don't have to worry about pairing up pasta shapes with pasta sauces when you cook with polenta instead of pasta. You can ladle anything saucy, chunky, sauteed, or fried on top of a bowl of steaming polenta and dig in heartily.
In many Italian homes they serve polenta family-style by pouring all of the prepared polenta (seasoned with salt and maybe some cheese) directly onto the dinner table. As the polenta cools slightly it keeps its shape and does't run off the table. You then carve out your area you want to eat with your fork and ladle Bolognesse, or Ragu or whatever sauce that's been prepared, onto your carefully mapped out polenta territory.
One of my favorite meals to make when I've missed a grocery shopping trip is Polenta with Sauteed Peas. I always have a bag of peas in my freezer and polenta on my shelf. A little butter and garlic rounds out the flavors. It's so easy and fast and very versatile. You can use any fresh or frozen vegetables you have. This recipe serves 2-4.
1 cup of dried polenta
3 cups of water (or broth)
2 Tbsps of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups of fresh peas or thawed if frozen
2 Tbsps of butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
I usually buy polenta in bulk so it doesn't come with cooking directions, but all you need to remember is the ratio 3:1, that is 3 parts water for every 1 part polenta. Bring the water to a boil, add salt to taste and pour in the polenta. Lower the heat and stir constantly with a whisk. The polenta should cook in about 5-10 minutes depending on the brand (some seem to cook quicker than others). Keep the polenta covered and set aside.
Add the oil and the garlic to a cold sautee pan. Allow the pan to heat up slowly. This will draw out more of the garlic flavor into the oil. Be careful not to brown the garlic, or let it burn. Just wait for it to get soft. Add the peas and sautee for a few minutes til heated through. Add the butter to make a rich sauce.
Sometimes I'll add extra vegetables to the sauteed peas if I have them, like fresh spinach (pictured above) or asparagus, or even bacon if I still have any left in the fridge.
Plate (or bowl) the polenta and pour the sauteed pea mixture over the polenta. And of course top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly cracked pepper to taste.