Tuesday, March 10, 2009

quick polenta bowl with tomato sauce and seasonal veggies

Here's a quick dinner I whipped up one night last week when I didn't have the energy to cook, or much in the fridge. I try to keep a can of tomatoes in the cabinet, and I almost always have a tube of Trader Joe's heat-and-serve polenta available...so, that and some asparagus I had from the Farmer's Market = dinner in 20 minutes flat!

Asparagus is just starting to appear at the Farmer's Markets here in LA, since it's early spring. There are also hot house tomatoes, but they're not that great (and I didn't have any), so I went for canned. In the summer, it's not that hard to make a sauce from fresh tomatoes, and I might use green beans instead of the asparagus. I also just used the fresh herbs I happened to have, plus some of the Italian seasonings in my cabinet. What I'm getting at here is that you should feel free to use: a) whatever is in season and sounds good, b) whatever you've got. This is a pretty hearty meal for two, and maybe more, depending on your appetite - especially if you add a green salad.


2 tsps. butter or olive oil (for the polenta)
1 18 oz. tube of polenta
1 tsp. olive oil (for the sauce)
1 cup chopped mushrooms (I used crimini, but whatever you have is fine.)
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
7 or 8 asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch bite-sized pieces
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
app. 3/4 of a large (28 oz.) can of tomatoes
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
salt & pepper
goat cheese (optional)

1. Slice the polenta log into circles about 1/2 inch thick. Melt the butter or heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the polenta slices. Once they start warming, they are easier to mash up and stir together - at first, just be sure to stir so that the same ones aren't always on the bottom hogging all the butter or oil. While you cook your tomato sauce, check on the polenta periodically, and mash/stir it until it's a thick, uniform texture. Remove from heat if this consistency is acheived before the sauce is ready. (Note: I believe Whole Foods and other stores have thier own ready-made polenta tubes, not just TJ's. And it is, of course, possible to make it yourself, but the point of this recipe is quickness and ease!)

2. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large pan, then add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, and add the asparagus once the mushrooms are starting to brown. Cook until the asparagus turns bright green and retains some of its crispiness. (Soggy, overcooked asparagus is gross.) Add a tablespoon (or just a generous splash) of balsamic vinegar and cook for a minute.

3. Add the canned tomatoes to the veggie mixture. I didn't use the whole can, but just eyeball it according to your desired ratio of veggies:tomatoes. Add the herbs and simmer for several minutes, adjusting the seasonings (a little more of this, a lot more of that...) and salt & pepper to taste.

4. After you've perfected your tomato sauce, spoon the polenta into individual bowls, smashing it up against the sides to make a polenta bowl-inside-a-bowl. Spoon the tomato sauce into the polenta-lined bowls, and serve with some crumbled or grated cheese on top, if you like. We happened to have goat cheese, which melted just a little, resulting in extreme creamy goodness.

Polenta on Foodista

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