I still remember the first time I made polenta. Previous to that life-changing moment, polenta had come from Trader Joe’s in a pre-cooked sausage-like tube. The round, yellow brick was meant to be cut into slices and then baked, pan-fried, or put to myriad other uses. The idea of making my own, well, it just seemed far-fetched, impossible, way out of my wheelhouse. Thanks to Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks and YouTube, I learned and was pleasantly surprised at how easily and quickly polenta can be prepared.Jump to Recipe
Not much compares to freshly made polenta; the creamy texture and rich corn flavor complement a host of dishes. A world of possibilities opens up to a fresh batch of polenta, such as Baked with Bechamel sauce, Polenta with Fontina, Polenta with various meats, and this recipe for Polenta and Beans from the Abruzzo region, typical in Pescara, the city on the Adriatic Sea.
Additionally, any number of ingredients can be added toward the end of cooking the polenta: grated cheese, butter, veggies, herbs, tomato sauce, or even the beans, and everything will become a lovely amalgamation of flavors.
Polenta and other foods made with various grades of cornmeal have a long history in Italian cuisine. In her entertaining book called, “Italian Food,” Elizabeth David says, “In northern Italy, every family has a special copper pot for cooking polenta, shaped rather like a cauldron, and it is stirred with a long stick. These implements figure over and over again in paintings of Venetian life” (page 112).
I used been greens and stems to enhance flavor and add nutrition. Waste not, want not!
This week at the CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture), we received beautiful beets still attached to the greens. HHmmmmm, what to do with those greens and stems? I could not bring myself to throw them away. The farmers at Tierra Vegetables and all small farmers, for that matter, work too hard to cultivate this food, so I want to cherish every part.
The stems reminded me of celery, so I chopped the stems and added them to the onion and garlic. The greens were much like chard or kale, so I chopped them and added them at the end of cooking. The beet greens and stems added another dimension of flavor and allowed me to use the entire plant. Win, win!
Beans, Greens, and Polenta
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 cups water
Beans and Greens
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 bunch beet green stems, chopped
- 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, pureed
- 2 15.5 oz. cans of kidney beans or cook up 1 cup of dried beans
- 1 bunch beet greens, chopped
- salt to taste
- black pepper
- ricotta cheese for garnish optional
Make the Polenta
- Add 4 cups water to a large pot. Slowly whisk in the polenta so as to prevent lumps. Once the polenta has been mixed into the water, turn to medium-high heat.
- As the polenta begins to heat, begin whisking. Bring the polenta to a gentle boil, whisking continuously. Adjust the temperature to keep the polenta at a gentle boil, but not too hot so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Continue cooking and whisking on and off (mostly on) for 15 minutes until the polenta is thick, about the consistency of dense cake batter. (It will set once it is cooled.)
- Remove from heat and pour into a 8" x 8" glass baking dish. The polenta is now done! Let it sit at room temperature for 20 – 30 minutes so that it will set. Once the polenta is set, it can be sliced and cut into squares.
Prepare the Beans and Greens
- In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and add onion and garlic. Saute on low until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped beet green stems, stir and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add the pureed canned tomatoes and the beet greens and stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes partially covered.
- Stir in the cooked beans and simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes
- Cut a square of polenta and place it in the center of the plate. Ladle on a healthy spoonful of beans and greens. Add a dollop of ricotta cheese. Enjoy!!Enjoy!