I found myself in an incredibly rare predicament the other night: I had a ton of time on my hands, but zero chef-spiration! Usually it’s quite the opposite—I’m racing the clock to get a meal on the table and I have to edit my ideas down to what’s achievable in the span of an hour.
My malaise was so powerful that even after flipping through a few of my cookbooks (The First Mess Cookbook, One Part Plant, and Thug Kitchen) I was without direction. A lot of recipes sounded great, but I was always an essential ingredient or two off. I’m, like, the Dowager Countess of substitutions, but, like I said, I had zero creativity.
So, since time was on my side, I decided to make something that has evaded and frustrated me for years: polenta.
I know, I know. You’re like, “Chelsea, wtf? Polenta is two ingredients. Do you secretly suck at cooking, and you’ve been stringing us along with this psuedo-cooking blog for almost 2 years?” Ugh, shut up. I was the same way with rice (Martha Stewart recipe, bless up!). For me, it seems, the simpler the recipe, the more I struggle. Bake a pie from scratch? No problem, friend. Make quinoa? *frantically Googles instructions*
Polenta is a tricky beast. It’s technically easy to make, but making it properly is difficult and time-consuming. When I saw the cornmeal in my cabinet, I knew I had found my white whale. Combining this singular vision with a bunch of pantry staples, I embarked on making the least cohesive, yet most delicious dinner I’ve made in ages. And I thought I’d share.
Creamy Polenta with ‘Wino Forever’ White Beans & Roasted Veggies
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 summer squash, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 onion of your choice, chopped finely
- 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1-2 tbsp butter (vegan butter or coconut oil will also work!)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup cooked corn, fresh or frozen
- 2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- black pepper
- red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 400, on the roast setting if you have it.
Start the polenta—I use this recipe. I’ll give some basic instructions, but I strongly recommend reading the Serious Eats recipe, as well as the accompanying backstory. I did not follow this recipe properly, which led the polenta to take twice as long to cook. Do as I say, not as I do.
In a large pot, warm the water over a high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal. Bring the pot to a boil, and let boil/simmer, stirring consistently, until the mixture begins to thicken and “spit”. Then lower the heat and let cook for about an hour longer. Make sure you’re stirring frequently! When it’s thick enough that you can pull it away from the pan with your stirring implement, it’s ready to be seasoned with salt and butter. Stir and then serve.
While the polenta is simmering away, steam your corn for a few minutes, until soft. Set aside. Chop your onion, zucchini, squash, and cauliflower, and place them in a glass baking dish. Toss them in a tbsp of olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Stir at the 15 minute mark, and add more olive oil if they’ve dried out. Roast until they reach your desired doneness, browned on the outside, about 30 minutes.
While the polenta and veggies are cooking, start your beans. Drain and rinse 2 cans of white beans. Set aside. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant. Add beans, and toss to coat in the oil. Once the beans are warmed, add your white wine, hot pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Simmer together for 5 minutes, or until the alcohol has cooked off. Add butter and veggie broth, stir, and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until the beans start to fall apart and the liquid has reduced to a gravy-like consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf before serving. When finished, the beans have a surprisingly meaty taste!
Stir the corn into the polenta before serving!
Plate the meal in layers, starting with a bed of polenta, piling on the veggies, and topping with the beans and “gravy”. Finish with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. Dig in and enjoy!
**There’s a way to make this so that everything finishes at just about the same time. But I’m more of a renegade chef, plating on the fly.
It’s not the most beautiful meal (lots of yellow and beige) but it is to-die-for delicious! It made a huge batch, so I got to enjoy the leftovers for days to come. For non-veg folk, it might seem odd to eat beans & vegetables for dinner, but trust me—all of your essential food groups are represented, and if I’m not mistaken, this meal is gluten-free!
BRB, fantasizing about making this again.