You can't get much more comforting than polenta. Rich and creamy, it makes a perfect side or simple main. And while the stove-top method is classic, there's an even easier route if you cook the polenta in the oven. Best of all? Polenta is gluten-free.
Nettle polenta: Fresh nettles may be known for their sting, but cooked, they add delicate, almost nutty notes to many a dish. Nettle leaves add bright flavor and deep emerald color to this creamy polenta dish, perfect as a hearty side or light main. Best of all, it's ready in only 30 minutes.
If you are sensitive to gluten, check all ingredients to make sure they are gluten-free before using, as many may contain trace gluten (such as spices, a number of which include flour as an anti-caking agent), and/or are produced in facilities that also process gluten-based products. Mushrooms may not be suitable for people who are extremely gluten-sensitive.
You can find the recipes below.
Total time: About 30 minutes
Note: Stinging nettles are available at many local farmers markets. When handling the nettles, wear latex or exam gloves; rinse them in a sink full of cold water to remove any dirt. Carefully remove the leaves from the stalks.
4 cups washed nettle leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup polenta, or organic coarse-ground corn meal
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and, using a pair of tongs or rubber gloves, add the nettles to the pot. Blanch the nettles for about 1 minute. Drain, coarsely chop and reserve.
2. In a heavy-bottomed medium pot, bring 5½ cups of water to a boil. Add the salt and olive oil, then slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the polenta cooks at a low simmer (bubbling slightly). Stir frequently until thick and creamy, about 17 to 20 minutes.
4. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, crème fraîche and nettles, whisking until combined. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
Each serving: 233 calories; 14 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 304 mg. cholesterol; 430 mg. sodium.
ESCAROLE WITH AGED PARRANO CHEESE AND SOFT POLENTA
Total time: 45 minutes
Note: Parrano cheese is available at Whole Foods markets. Fontina can be substituted.
2 pounds escarole
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup grated aged Parrano cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Parmesan cheese, for shaving
1. Wash the escarole leaves in two changes of water. Trim the stems. Set aside the very tender yellow-green core, reserving for salads. Dry and cut the leaves into strips about one-half inch wide.
2. In a heavy saucepan, combine the stock and cream and bring the mixture to a boil. Add three-fourths teaspoon salt, then whisk in the polenta. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the polenta is thick, soft and creamy. Stir in the Parrano cheese.
3. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in the red pepper. Add the escarole. You may need to allow half the escarole to wilt in the pan before adding the rest. When the leaves have begun to wilt, stir them carefully so that they become evenly mixed with the sauteed garlic. The greens are done when they are tender and wilted, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Serve the escarole on top of the polenta. Garnish with shaved Parmesan.
Each serving: 343 calories; 11 grams protein; 32 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 20 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 60 mg. cholesterol; 484 mg. sodium.
POLENTA GRATIN WITH MUSHROOMS AND FONTINA
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Servings: 6 as appetizer, 4 as main course.
Note: Inspired in part by a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty"; the polenta technique comes from Golden Pheasant polenta.
1 cup polenta
4 cups water
6 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces shimeji mushrooms, bottoms removed
2 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 pound Fontina cheese, sliced
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the polenta in a 2-quart gratin dish, and stir in the water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bake for 45 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and return the polenta to the oven for 15 more minutes.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with one-fourth teaspoon salt, or to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms give up their moisture, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the rosemary and continue cooking until the mushrooms are dry, 3 to 4 more minutes.
3. When the polenta is done, taste and add more salt if necessary. Tear the soft Fontina slices into shreds and distribute them over the top of the polenta. Scatter the cooked mushrooms over the top and return the pan to the oven until the cheese has melted and begins to brown, about 5 minutes.
Each of 6 servings: 241 calories; 9 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 42 mg cholesterol; 1 gram sugar; 640 mg sodium.