Cooking the Book: Baked Polenta
So, as I explain over here, I finally got my hands on an awesome “for two” cookbook. Being from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, it’s far more than just another cookbook. I’m sharing my adventures with it here, with all y’all, one recipe at a time through The Good, The Bad and The Leftovers (if there are any…)
For my first crack at using Cooking for Two 2011, I went with Baked Polenta (with toppings). There are a couple of variations on this, as the folks at America’s Test Kitchen often include, and Mr. Kitchenette was partial to the mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, which is… more or less seasonally appropriate. Or at least more so than summer squash, anyway.
Now, stirring in raw garlic off the heat at the end was not how I learned to make polenta, so I had my doubts when I first read through the recipe. But I trust the editors at America’s Test Kitchen, so I went with it. And it totally works. The whole thing works. And while we’ll probably try some of the other variations — and making up some of our own — I’m pretty sure some version of this dish will make it into our regular dinner rotation. If nothing else, I have a new take on making polenta (though don’t think you’re getting out of any stirring on this one. It’s still polenta.).
There is a lot going on, but rather than being overwhelming, it’s just enough. There’s garlic, but it’s not overwhelming. The teeny bit of rosemary is perfect. The tomatoes provide just enough acid. The sprinkle of chopped basil on top is perfect. There’s just enough cheese for some yummy gooey action without it becoming overwhelming and gluey.
Most of the things I didn’t like about this dish I can attribute at least in part to my own impatience. If I had it to do over, I would have cooked off more of the mushroom liquid, which was flavorful but made it a little soupy even after the requisite 10-minute resting period. I would also slow down and get just a little more carmelization on the onions. Both, I think, would provide even more depth of flavor. And I would have wielded the salt and pepper a little more liberally throughout. But on a scale of Yay to Yuck, these things are all pretty minor.
I don’t really think that cooking something in a pan, moving it to a bowl (that will also have to be washed), wiping out the pan and then cooking something else in it — even if the first things end up back in the same pan for a brief stint in the oven — entirely qualifies as a one-pan meal. In the old, sans dishwasher, no counterspace Kitchenette, that would have been a bigger deal, but for now it’s a pretty minor quibble. Just sayin’.
And, there were actual leftovers, maybe a little less than a quarter of the skillet’s worth, or about one lunch portion. Not bad, really, especially when you consider neither of us had been out chopping wood or anything and polenta is sooooo fillllliiinnnnng. I think if you made this after a day of skiing or something it would be totally gone in no time flat. Even if it doesn’t, the leftovers reheated nicely for a quick lunch the next day.
Baked Polenta with Mushrooms, Spinach and Tomatoes
from Cooking for Two 2011
5 teaspoons olive oil
1 lb. white mushrooms, quartered
1/8 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (about 2 T), rinsed and minced
salt and pepper
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 t dried
6 oz. baby spinach (about 6 cups)
6 oz. cherry tomatoes (about 1 cup), halved
1 2/3 cups water
1/2 cup whole milk
salt and pepper
1/2 cup polenta
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minutes
2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
For the topping: Adjust oven rack to middle postion and heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in 10-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Strin in white mushrooms, porcini mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon slat, cover and cook until mushrooms are very wet, about 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until mushrooms are browned, 3 to 6 minutes; transfer to large bowl.
Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in spinach and tomatoes and continue to cook until vegetables are softened, about 1 minute. Transfer to bowl with mushrooms. Season vegetables with salt and pepper to taste.
For the polenta: Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Add water, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt to skillet and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add polenta while whisking constantly in circular motion to prevent clumping.
Bring polenta to simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, over and cook, stirring often and vigorously, until polenta becomes soft and smooth, 10 to 15 minutes. Off heat, stir in butter and garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Smooth polenta into even layer in skillet. Spoon topping evenly over polenta, then sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, sprinkle with basil, and serve.