It was to be a memorable, yet still blissfully simple, dinner, one I planned even before I left for work that morning: Herb-flecked triangles of polenta, served with a ragu of mushrooms. During the course of my polenta hunt for the cake I wrote about yesterday, I had accidentally picked up a package of the instant stuff, and pairing it with my surfeit of mushrooms seemed like a wonderful idea for a weeknight meal.
I was a polenta-cooking virgin, uncertain of what to expect—all I knew was that I didn’t particularly care for it in its soft, creamy form, but when firm and knife-friendly, its golden yellow, slightly chewy nature had a tendency to make me smile. After thumbing through my cookbooks and searching online for recipes, I found one that sounded like exactly what I had in mind, on Epicurious. Best of all, with the instant polenta (which is pre-cooked, then dehydrated), it would only require about five minutes in front of the stove. Little did I know how dangerous those five minutes would turn out to be! Be warned: As it thickens in the pot, polenta has a tendency to burp, heaving gobs of itself out of the hot pan and all over the kitchen, including the cook. I still have a small red mark on my forehead from where some of it landed. But no matter, it was well worth it. Once I’d spread the mixture into the baking dish and smoothed it carefully with an offset spatula, my injury was forgotten.
The rest of the meal didn’t quite turn out as planned. Just before I was to start prepping all those mushrooms, S called to say he was stuck at work and wouldn’t be home for dinner after all. Now, I’m perfectly happy to cook for myself, but we hadn’t installed our air conditioners yet and to be honest I was dreading spending all that time in a hot kitchen, so I decided to turn my polenta triangles into polenta croutons for a big salad—that’s the picture you see above. A little freshly grated parmiggiano, a few minutes in the toaster oven, and voila! Instant yumminess, with no real heat. The centers stayed wonderfully soft, while the cheese gave the croutons a nice salty crust.
About an hour later the phone rang again: S, on his way home, hungry. He’d worked late all right, but hadn’t bothered to eat. I wasn’t about to start cleaning all those mushrooms now, and I’d just about finished the salad fixings… A quick rummage through the fridge yielded a treasure: about ½ cup of Little Gram’s sauce. Perfect! I drizzled it over the remaining polenta triangles, sprinkled the top with a healthy handful of parmiggiano, and popped it in a 350 oven until S arrived home twenty minutes later. He was thrilled, and so was I: It turns out Herbed Polenta Triangles are about as fast, and as versatile, as can be. So who cares if you might end up in the emergency room?
Weight Watchers readers: A serving of 4 triangles without cheese or sauce is 4 points.
Herbed Polenta Triangles
Adapted from Epicurious
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 2/3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
½ T. butter
½ t. salt
¾ cup plus 2 T. instant polenta
2 T. chopped Italian parsley
2 T. fresh thyme leaves
Spray an 8-inch square glass baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Bring broth and butter to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually add cornmeal, whisking constantly. Lower heat and whisk until mixture is very thick and starts pulling away from pan, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley and thyme. Immediately transfer polenta to baking dish, spreading evenly. Cool 5 minutes, then cut polenta into 8 triangles; leave in baking dish. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Rewarm in microwave oven on high, about 2 minutes.)
To make polenta croutons, remove the triangles from the dish and spread them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each one with ½ T. grated parmesan cheese, and bake in a toaster oven at about 350 until the cheese starts to bubble and the edges brown.
To make polenta “lasagna,” leave the triangles in the baking dish and spoon prepared pasta sauce over the top. Sprinkle liberally with parmesan and bake in a 350 oven (not the toaster oven, the real one) for 20-30 minutes.