Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Olive, Tomato, & Scallion Polenta Loaf

I made a new vegetarian recipe over the weekend, and not only was it a huge hit, but it's perfect for Do-Little Dinners. Sure, at first it seems a little complicated; but here's the key: you can make the whole thing ahead of time, like during afternoon nap or the evening before, and then pop it in the fridge for the chill. Then when dinnertime rolls around, all you have to do is the pan-frying, which takes less than five minutes.

Don't be scared of polenta, if the food and the word are unfamiliar to you. It's just cornmeal, prepared in a classic Italian manner, and it's both easy to make and easy to like. You can serve it many different ways, with a variety of embellishments. You can make it firm, like meatloaf, as shown here, or soft like mashed potatoes to be eaten in a bowl with a spoon. It's endlessly adaptable! And as I've said before, in my experience children love it. Seriously, Genevieve couldn't inhale her portion of this recipe fast enough.

As usual, I found this recipe awhile back in some random magazine passed on to me and now forgotten, so I can't properly give credit. But I will say this: YUM. This would be good with roasted root vegetables, a fresh green salad, or even as a side dish for a protein-based entree.

Olive, Tomato, & Scallion Polenta Loaf
8 slices = 4-8 servings, depending on appetites

5 cups water
1-1/3 cups yellow cornmeal (coarse-ground if available; I just use regular)
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup sliced green or black olives
2/3 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed through a press
1 T. olive oil

Heat the water to boiling in a large pot. Begin stirring the water clockwise with a whisk (mandatory!), then slowly pour in the cornmeal in a thin steady stream while you continue to stir continuously. Quickly lower heat and keep stirring constantly at a low boil, until water is absorbed and polenta becomes thick. (It will sputter quite a bit here; do your best.) With regular, fine-ground cornmeal, this will happen quickly, i.e. 3-5 minutes. With coarser cornmeal, cook 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately stir in all other ingredients. Pour into an oiled, standard-sized (9 x 4 or so) loaf pan. Let sit until cooled to room temperature, then cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

After chilling, invert the pan onto a large cutting board and slice the loaf into 8 equal pieces. Pan-fry on medium-high in a bit of oil or cooking spray until warmed and crisp-toasty-golden-brown on the outside (takes just a few minutes). Then just TRY to limit yourself to one serving.

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