Often, when I’m looking for a quick dinner, I try to make a large serving of something typically considered a side but load it up with veggies and proteins enough to make a proper meal. Read: I’m often eating rice or pasta at home. While I love rice and pasta, and try to vary what kinds I’m using and what I’m serving them with, I was looking for something different recently. Bingo: Recipes for Health in the New York Times recently suggested polenta.
I went to Raffetto’s in Manhattan, an Italian-foods specialty store that thank God is cash-only, since I am perpetually cash-strapped, or I would have serious credit card problems there. Since quick was what I was after, I purchased a bag of pre-cooked polenta that only needed five minutes on the stovetop to be ready to eat. I also picked up a can of San Marzano tomatoes and a zucchini at a small market nearby, and I was set to make polenta with zucchini and tomatoes. This recipe is great because it can be fully made in about 30 minutes, or, if you are particularly pressed for time, many parts can be made ahead of time, and can be mixed and matched.
Polenta, serving for 4
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut in half lengthwise if thick, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste
1 can tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan
Optional: 1/2 can, white beans
Separately, and ahead of time if you wish, make the polenta. Slowly bring water to boil in a large saucepan, stir in the polenta granules, and continually stir slowly. I recommend adding a glass of milk just before the polenta is finished cooking, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until just about tender. Mix in the garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Important: don’t let the onions nor the garlic get too brown. They will overpower the other flavors if they do. Stir in the squash and a pinch of salt, and stir continually for five to eight minutes, until the squash is coated with oil and beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the sugar and salt to taste. You can also add a pinch of black pepper if you want. Turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, for five to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Turn the heat back down to medium and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and aromatic and most of the water is evaporated. If the tomatoes begin tostick to the pan before the end of the cooking time, add up to 1/4 cup water. Stir in the parsley and mint, and simmer for a few more minutes. For some protein and some additional heartiness, add the white beans just before it’s finished so that they mix in with the other veggies and heat up. Remove from the heat, taste, adjust the salt and add pepper.
Spoon polenta onto plates, making a depression in the center. If you made it ahead you might want to give it a quick zap in the microwave. Pour the sauce over the top. Add parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste.
Serves 4 to 6.