It must be the raw chill in the air, but recently I’ve found myself craving a bowl of warm polenta. Now I’m not a BIG polenta person; and it’s not because I have a problem with the stuff. I rarely make it because I just forget about it being an option. Noodles, grains, rice–they all jump to mind when I need a dish to accompany something, but not polenta. Then this past Sunday, I was feeling cold and hungry and a bowl of soup or a sandwich just wasn’t going to cut it. When I opened up the pantry to get some inspiration I spied a bag of Bob’s Red Mill corn grits/polenta I had bought to test a recipe (side note: Am I the only person who has many random bags of flours and meals by Bob’s Red Mill lurking in my pantry? At the moment I have a collection that includes rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, 10-Grain Hot Cereal, and some old world barley; none of them opened, all of them seemed like a great idea when I bought them. There is something about the design of those plain Jane bags which is just brilliant marketing).
I decided to indulge my craving for creamy grits/polenta and see what I’ve been missing, but I needed something to go with it. Something with a sauce that could be absorbed into the polenta and turn it into a meal. So I decided to poach some eggs in tomato sauce…
To make the sauce put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add some chopped pancetta and one chopped yellow onion. Sautee them together until the pancetta begins to crisp and the onion becomes golden and soft. Then add one 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, refilling the can half way (sloshing around to include any of the tomato juice remnants) and adding the water as well. Combine the sauce with the onion mixture, pressing down on the whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up, and let the concoction simmer for about 10 minutes. When it’s thickened and ready, taste for salt, pepper and perhaps a big pinch of sugar if it’s a little too acidic. When the polenta is ready make four little wells in the sauce for the eggs, breaking them into the circle, then covering the pan with a lid, letting the eggs simmer in the sauce for about 7-8 minutes so that they are still runny in the middle.
To cook the polenta you can follow the instructions on the bag but it’s pretty easy: For 2 cups of the corn grits you will need 6 cups of water. In a large sauce pan you bring the water to a boil, adding salt like you would a pot of pasta water. When the water is boiling add the corn meal into the pot slowly, stirring as you go. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the mixture is thick and pulling away from the sides of the pan (about 20-30 minutes). You should stir frequently so the polenta doesn’t stick to the pan, but you don’t have to be crazy about it. Just be careful because it will bubble up occasionally like lava.
When it’s done you can stir in any of the following: a big spoonful of marscarpone, a few pats of butter, some grated parmesan cheese, or all of the above. You can then spoon it into a bowl and serve your sauce and eggs on top, or get fancy…
Oil the inside of a wide bowl with a slick of olive oil and then empty the polenta into the bowl, spreading it out evenly. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. The polenta will firm up and take on the shape of the bowl. Place an inverted plate on top of the bowl and then carefully FLIP it so that the molded polenta ends up on the plate (don’t do what I did and get some olive oil on your hands so that the whole thing becomes slippery and you end up with a polenta mound down the front of your shirt).
Slice off a thick piece of the polenta and place it in a shallow bowl. Top with one egg, plenty of sauce, and if you have it, some sliced avocado, a spoonful of yogurt, maybe some baby spinach, a handful of chopped parsley or torn basil, or sliced scallions. I also like to drizzle the egg with some olive oil before serving. It’s a winter antidote in a bowl
*If there’s any unfinished polenta I put it in the fridge and then later on slice it into wedges and fry it in a pan with some olive oil. For the kids I’ll layer a piece of cheese on top like an open faced grilled cheese sandwich. Stick it in a bowl of tomato soup. Delicious.