Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: This appetizer is from Joe Miller of Joe’s Restaurant in Venice. Miller adds shelled fava beans to the sauce and prefers stinging nettle leaves, which can be found at farmers markets, to the arugula or mustard greens. If using the nettles, be sure to wear gloves when removing the leaves from the stems.
3 cups chicken stock, divided
3/4 cup instant polenta
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
18 thin spears asparagus
1/2 cup shelled English peas
1 cup coarsely chopped arugula or mustard greens
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
1. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and set aside.
2. Bring 2 cups of stock to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly stir in the polenta, reduce the heat and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese. Spoon into the dish, spreading in an even layer, and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Cut into nine squares and remove from the dish.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until fork-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the pot with a strainer and shock in ice water to set color. Drain. Bring the same pot of water back to a boil. Add the peas and cook 2 minutes. Place in ice water then drain.
4. Place the remaining 1 cup chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce slightly. Add the peas and arugula or greens and cook for a few more minutes. Whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm.
5. Heat a grill pan on high heat. Brush with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and, when very hot, place the polenta squares on the pan. Grill 3 minutes per side. Remove and keep warm. Brush the grill pan with an additional teaspoon of olive oil. Grill the asparagus spears.
6. To serve, place one grilled polenta square on each plate. Lay two asparagus spears crossing over the top of the polenta, then spoon the sauce around the plate.
Each serving: 166 calories; 361 mg. sodium; 19 mg. cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 2 grams fiber.