Monday, September 9, 2013

A Fancy Ragù Dinner for the Humble

I neglected to post a recipe last week. I made a creamy baked eggplant dish, and the ratio of eggplant to cream was out of whack. The flavor was awesome, but the pools of cream were not. If eggplant is on the horizon for a future CSA share, then I will attempt to improve the recipe for a blog post. 

Anyhow, when I go to a restaurant and find soft polenta with a ragù of braised pork shoulder on the menu, I look no further. I cannot resist such a hearty, satisfying dish. The polenta perfectly sops up the rich sauce from the slow-cooked pork. There is nothing more satisfying to eat in the dead of winter. 

While I love the heartiness of such a dish, I also love to make a lighter, vegetarian version.  This slight - though temporary - turn in the weather got me excited about making such a polenta dish. Plus, several of this week's CSA share vegetables can be used.

Tamar Adler enlightened me on the proper way to cook polenta. Apparently lots of water and plenty of cooking time is the trick. She notes how cooking the polenta for up to an hour will reduce the "soapy" taste, and she is right. Though the off taste is very subtle, it is noticeable and worth eliminating with an extended cooking time. As long as I start cooking the polenta at the beginning of my cooking session, it is usually done when everything else is also just finished.

Vegetarian Ragù with Polenta
serves 5 to 6


1 c polenta
5 c water
large pinch of salt
a dab of butter (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring 5 cups (yes, 5) and salt to a boil. Slowly add polenta and reduce heat to low. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is no longer soapy, 45 minutes to an hour. Stir in butter if desired. 

The cooked polenta will firm up in the fridge, but it is tasty sliced and sauteed in a little oil.

Vegetarian Ragù

1 medium yellow onion (or 1/2 of a jumbo), chopped
5 plump cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
olive oil
1 bell pepper, red or green, chopped
1 medium summer squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced in 1/4-inch pieces
8 oz of mushroom, wild or crimini, chopped 
28 oz of tomatoes, canned or fresh, diced
1/2 tsp Italian dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/4 c dry red wine, or more to taste

1/4 c fresh basil, finely chopped
parmesan, grated
extra virgin olive oil (optional)

In a large cast iron or frying pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute, stirring regularly, until light brown and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add bell peppers, summer squash and mushrooms. Cook, gently tossing to stir, until mushrooms have released most of their moisture and vegetables are just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add diced tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper, and red wine. Turn heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and melded into the vegetable mixture. Season to taste. 

Serve over soft polenta and garnish with fresh basil, grated parmesan, and drizzled extra virgin olive oil.