oven polenta

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies

Jump straight to the Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies recipe.

I love corn, I love cornmeal, and I adore polenta. Steve wants nothing to do with it. So more for me.

polenta with roasted veggies

But everyone knows that polenta is a giant pain in the ass because of all that blasted stirring. I’ve made it in the crockpot; it eliminates the stirring, but also stiffens up the polenta so it’s like those little tubes you buy of ready made polenta at the store. This, my friends, is not the polenta of the Italian grandmother you may have had, or in my case, pine for on occasion. (I had a German grandmother on one side who could bake but preferred riding horses, and a French/Danish/Irish one on the other, who made weird multicolored popcorn balls and sauerkraut. Never polenta.)

Bon Appetit was one of my early cooking teachers, and it remains one of my favorite arrivals. I still like print magazines and probably always will. Leafing through the October issue, I saw what looked like a lovely bowl of polenta and a pan of roasted mushrooms. Most intriguing, the polenta was baked in the oven right alongside the veggies. The recipe subhead reads: “Call it cheating—we call it 30 minutes you don’t need to spend standing at the stove.”

Count me IN.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Prep

Look, why just roast a pan of mushrooms when you also have some eggplant and red bell pepper to use up? And why only add thyme when you also have some rosemary growing in a pot? These are questions I ask myself frequently, especially after a recent mild talking-to that Steve and I gave to ourselves about better using the virtual fruit of the refrigerator.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

I cubed the eggplant and pepper; I’d bought the shrooms sliced, so they were good to go. Roasting veggies is not a recipe thing, people. You put them in a bowl, add some oil, fresh herbs and garlic if you’re so inclined, seasonings. Then spread them on a sheet pan and roast them.
One new wrinkle that the recipe provides, and that I decided to give a try: Begin the roasting process at a measly 325º. I typically go for the max carmelization delivered by a hotter oven, but….why not?

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Veggies in oven, I heated broth and water together to a boil. The recipe specified water only, but long ago I learned that if you can sub something for the water, do it; more flavor.

I whisked in the polenta, covered the pot, then put it right in the oven. The nice low temp ensured that the polenta would cook gently all by itself. Then I sat down and played the piano for a while, because that is an amazing thing to be able to do while you wait for the timer to ring.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: Finishing

After about half an hour, the polenta was ready to come out. When I looked at it and shook the pan, I thought….this cannot be! The polenta was still liquid. But then I stirred it and found that it had indeed started to thicken to the perfect polenta consistency. I removed it, gave it a good whisk, and left it on the stove top.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Now I cranked up the oven—the recipe actually instructs, “Crank up the oven”—to its highest temp, which on mine is 550º. Zoinks! The vegetables crisped up after about 10 minutes.

Then we went on a walk for about 40 minutes, with of course everything out of the oven. In that time, the polenta had set up beautifully: pourable, but not a soup, just that wonderful hybrid of liquid and solid that means ideal polenta. Without the walk, I would have kept the stove on its very lowest setting to give the polenta just a little more incentive to thicken.
But seriously, it was lovely.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Recipe

quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Quick Pickled Vegetables

Quick pickled vegetables are exactly what they sound like. You make a pickling brine, quick. While it heats and then cools, you slice some veggies paper thin. When the brine cools, you add the veggies.

Done.

quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Jump to recipe.

Here’s why these things are genius: Quick pickled vegetables sparkle up ANY meal, and they do it fast. Planning a sandwich for lunch? Throw a few pickled veggies on for crunch, bite, and color. Add ’em to a bowl of rice and beans, or on top of some Asian pasta with nut butter sauce. You just changed the game from biz as usual to an impromptu party. Mix some pickled radishes into your salad bowl for a burst of sweet tart happiness. I had some on hand recently to top off the Baja Mole Bowl. Lovely.

My favorite quick pickle candidates are:

  • Carrots, especially the multicolored ones. Carrot sticks bore me, and I don’t like the way the carrot core so often tastes like wood. Slicing the veggies super thin and then giving them a brine soak makes them fun again.
  • Radishes. I’m crazy about those white/pink/purple radishes known as Easter Eggs. Radishes fulfill their destiny when pickled.
  • Onions. Raw onions cause stinky nightmares without a soak in some water. The brine perfectly mitigates their sulfurous nature.
  • Bell peppers, seeded and sliced.
  • Celery, slivered. You may also want to de-string the stalks, a tedious but worthwhile process if you don’t like having to gnaw through a tough old celery string.

You may be surprised that cucumbers aren’t on the list, but I’ve never really liked the texture of pickled cucumbers. So I choose denser veggies with a more intense crunch factor. Of course, cukes are the classic pickle base, and they make swell quick pickles if you don’t mind them a little less crisp. But cucumbers have so much water that I never eat them unless I’ve seeded and salted them, then let them stand until some of the water drains out.

For me, cauliflower is TOO dense, so I nix that, even though it’s a popular choice. I never eat raw cauliflower when it’s on a crudite platter, either, and it does seem to be left in a forlorn little mountain long after the carrots, celery, and peppers have been dipped and consumed. I’ve also seen pickled green beans, a great candidate in the crunch department. The problem is, they turn a REALLY ugly color. If this doesn’t bug you, go for it. Broccoli, for me, combines the density issue of cauliflower with the hideous color transformation of green beans. I’m highly visual. But as always, do what floats your boat, not mine.

While there’s nothing wrong with mixing the veggies together in the brine, I like to keep them separate and distinct. I would slice all the veggies, put them in separate containers, then pour the cooled brine over the top of each. You just need it to cover. If you run out of brine, it’s super fast and easy to make another batch.

Pickling brine scarcely needs a recipe, it’s so simple: 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water, with a generous pinch of sweetener and a discreet amount of salt. You can also add some mustard seeds or cloves or some other spice you like as you please. I gently heat the mix on the stove, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve, then cool completely before adding to the veggies.

As usual, I’ve included a recipe, but you really don’t need one. In fact, this is SO easy, teach your kids to do it and get them in the raw veggie habit for life.

Quick Pickled Vegetables: The Recipe

 

The Maharajah Bowl

Indian cooking—the northwestern branch of it specifically, as “Indian” is as sweeping a description as American, Italian, or Spanish—is the first exotic cuisine I can remember getting a proper introduction to as a kid. My parents hosted some Pakistani missionaries at our home; and while, of course, Pakistan is not India, the cuisine across the subcontinent has some shared characteristics: rice, spices, vegetables, amazing and mysterious smells, singing sweet music to my suburban California child’s soul.

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When I met my daughter’s father Joel, he gave me what has become a cherished lexicon of food from across the vast country: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, a massive and lovingly assembled compendium from Yamuna Devi, whom Joel had known when he lived in India.

lord-krishna

The sheer luxuriance of color that occurs when I muster up the ingredients for an Indian dish gives me a little shiver. For this one, I knew I wanted to use up some apricot-hued lentils, as well as (of course) a cauliflower and an eggplant that had been waiting patiently. A mix of whole and ground spices provided the depth and complexity that makes good Indian food so special; no curry powder circa 1970, please, which has  unfairly convinced more people they don’t like Indian food than any other single factor. Plenty of mint and parsley on hand, because I had them and didn’t have cilantro, which also would have worked.

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I’ll be the first to admit that the dish, when you first glance at the recipe, is going to seem overly complicated. It DOES have quite a few components. Feel free to skip any of them, and to assemble the dish any which way that suits you. For instance, leave out either the carrots or the roasted veggies, or both, simply serving the lentils with the various toppings and the rice if you like. Or leave out the lentils, which take the longest. Even better, make the lentils and the carrots the day before; the flavor gets better as they sit.

maha-lentils

Another way to simplify is to simply pick up a bottle of garam masala already mixed, and replace the spices with that. One of the great joys of Indian cooking is its improvisation, which rivals Coltrane, Bird, and Monk in their finest hours.

The point, of course and as ever, is to make it yours. And most importantly, as Joel told me, to make it and offer it with love. Namaste.

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