Fall and winter are campaign season at my house. Through pure coincidence, year after year, the cold seasons always end up being the time I go on quests to convince my husband of the virtues of certain foods.
The first winter we were married, for example, was the year of the Brussels sprout. I was convinced that I could get him to like them, if only I could find the right recipe. Eventually, I did (roasted with lemon, bacon and Parmesan cheese), which, of course, has only encouraged me to try further when certain foods are met with initial resistance.
We’ve also had the year of eggplant and the year of kale. This year, however, for the first time the candidate I’m rooting for is not a vegetable. This year, the food is polenta.
Often thought of as “Italian grits,” polenta is, indeed, ground-up corn. But where grits can be mushy, the variety of corn that polenta is made from tends to hold its shape better, making polenta coarser.
With its thick texture and warm, golden color, polenta is the ultimate comfort food. It’s buttery and cheesy and just a bite or two can fortify you against the coldest winter day. I’ll confess, polenta could cheat on its wife and inhale all it wants to — it has my vote no matter what.
There remains the problem of convincing my husband. He’s not close-minded when it comes to polenta. “It just always feels like it’s missing something,” he always says with a frown. And so the campaign begins.
The following recipe is the opening salvo. In plotting it out, I was hoping that the bacon would carry the day. While it should be obvious by now that I love polenta — and, thus, thought it was delicious — in the interests of full disclosure, my husband pronounced it “good, but not amazing.”
Meh, we’ll get there. And in the meantime, I think the rest of the world should get to enjoy this polenta goodness.
Polenta Portobello Mushroom Stacks with Eggs and Bacon
1 cup dry polenta
3 cups water
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1/4 cup milk (optional)
4 portobello mushroom caps
4 slices bacon
Handful of fresh greens, like arugula
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Briefly rinse the mushroom caps — it’s OK, I promise it won’t make them soggy — then coat them with olive oil. Put them in the oven on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until they start to smell incredible.
Next, start cooking your bacon and polenta. For the polenta, mix the dry polenta and water in a sauce pan over medium heat. You’ll need to stir pretty constantly to avoid scorching the bottom, but you’ll know the polenta is done when it’s thick enough that your spoon will almost stand up in the middle of it. Remove the pan from the heat, add the thyme, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Now start your eggs. You can cook them however you’re comfortable for this recipe, but I’d recommend poached or fried. You want them to end up a little gooey in the center so that the yolks make a sauce for the rest of the dish.
When the eggs are almost done, quickly assemble your stacks. Begin with a handful of fresh greens, add the roasted mushroom cap, and top it with a big dollop of polenta. If the polenta has gotten too thick, mix in about 1/4 cup of milk to loosen it back up. Next add a slice of bacon to one side, and finish the whole thing off with an egg and an extra sprig of thyme.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at www.mybitofearth.net.