The Hand Off: Goat Cheesy Polenta with Savory Greens
By Brianna Bain
On Tuesday I shared my journey to locate organic corn meal to make polenta. Focusing on the simplicity of good food, I have patched together a basic polenta recipe that includes water, corn meal and olive oil. By way of my travels for corn meal I have also added a new olive oil to my pantry – California Olive Ranch -EVOO. Founded in 1998, California Olive Ranch is America’s largest grower and processor of olive oil. I was attracted to this olive oil for its proximity to where I live and because it is made of 100% California grown olives. However, I am apprehensive about their farming practices. California Olive Ranch uses a relatively new farming method from Spain called “Super High Density Planting”. Combined with their high speed milling methods machine harvested olives they are able to cut production time down significantly and offer a high quality product at a lower price.
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I began to think about the traditional ways of farming and hand picking olives v. this new speedy industrialized method that boasts a long list of benefits. However there are drawbacks involved: use of heavy machinery over fertile soils, increased energy consumption and potentially fewer jobs. A purchase that I initially thought was wise, started to change shape. Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I have access to local olive oil, it’s just my nature to be inquisitive about what my food has to go through to get me. This experience is a reminder to me to continue questioning my food and gain perspective about the technologies that arise to meet the demands of our growing population.
Many of history’s simplest and tastiest foods evolved to meet the demands of a hungry population; we innovate to feed our communities in times of need. Like polenta olive oil is one of the many simple foods that arose to meet a demand and stuck with us. We are always in a dynamic evolutionary relationship with our food and the system it comes from. The push and pull of meeting the needs of humans while protecting the environment is the giant white elephant in the room. I continue to navigate this tug of war by questioning how food is produced as well as my own preconceived notions of “ local is best”. I press on, continuing to educate myself through exploring food and creating new recipes influenced by my surroundings. This week’s polenta is a living example of this crossroads of local meets industrial production.
Cheesy Polenta with Greens
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup cold water
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
- 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used goat jack cheese)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bunch curly kale
- 1 bunch rainbow chard
- 1/2 large white onion, or 1 small onion
- 1 Tbs Bragg liquid aminos, or substitute soy sauce
- 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- Begin by preheating oven to 375 degrees F.
- Grate cheese and set aside.
- Mix 1 cup of corn meal with 1 cup of water in a bowl.
- Heat 2 cups of in medium pan until boiling.
- Turn heat down to medium and add cold water corn meal mixture to hot water, stirring constantly to avoid clumping and sticking to pan. Cook for about 15 minutes.
- Just before removing from heat add salt, pepper, olive oil and grated cheese.
- Mix ingredients well and remove from heat.
- Transfer polenta mixture to a 9×9 lightly oiled square pan (my polenta batter was about 1 inch thick).
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top. While Polenta is baking, begin your greens.
- Chop onion, kale and rainbow chard, set aside.
- Mince garlic, set aside.
- Add olive oil and onions, to a fry pan, cook over medium heat stirring to coat pan and onions evenly, about 10 minutes.
- Add chopped greens and stir to mix evenly with oil and onions. Turn heat down to low and cover, continue to cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
- Remove lid, add garlic, liquid aminos and rice vinegar, Stir well and continue to cook with lid removed for 2 minutes then remove from heat. If timed correctly polenta should be coming out of the oven just about the time the greens are finished cooking.
- Remove polenta from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Cut polenta into desired sections. Either serve baked or transfer sections to a lightly oiled fry pan. Pan fry polenta for 2 minutes on each side over medium to high heat to reach a crispier and firmer polenta cake.
- Transfer polenta to plate and smother with savory greens mixture.
The trick with this recipe is to get your corn meal to the right consistency. If just right, it will bake to perfection in the oven. Many recipes call for milk and egg which I suspect would make finding this consistency less of a challenge. One good thing about polenta: it is very forgiving. If you don’t get the firmness you desire right out of the oven, a night in the refrigerator will do wonders. You will find that once cooled it will take on a lovely texture perfect for reheating or eating cold. Next time around, I may try omitting the cheese and cooking my cornmeal and water a little longer before baking. Some recipes recommend 10-15 minutes of cooking time in the pan before baking, while others recommend 30 minutes. Making a perfect polenta may take a few tries, but for my first attempt I was very pleased. I hope your adventures in polentaland are as fun and rewarding as mine – happy cooking!