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