Creamy polenta topped with a rustic tomato based veggie ragout is not only comfort food, but an easy option for feeding a picky crowd. I was cooking for a group of writers that included vegetarians and many with food allergies and aversions and this hearty lunch fit the bill.
The ragout can be made in advance and reheated or made earlier in the day and allowed to simmer while making the polenta. The longer it sits, the deeper the flavors … and the kitchen will smell divine! Polenta is best served right away, so don’t start it until the ragout has been simmering for at least 15 minutes.
Variations: Vegan cheese can be substituted for dairy cheese. If you are cooking for folks that are okay with dairy, you can make the polenta with milk instead of water for a richer texture.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red pepper, diced
- 1 small orange pepper, diced
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 6 fresh sage leaves, julienned
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 large handful of baby spinach leaves, chopped
- Optional toppings: grated parmesan cheese, fresh parsley or basil, sliced black olives
- In a large, deep pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add diced peppers, onions and garlic and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until soft.
- Add rosemary, sage, salt, pepper, zucchini and mushrooms and sautee for 5 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, turn up the heat to high and stir until bubbling (3-5 minutes).
- Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for a minimum of 15 minutes, stirring frequently. You can then turn off and reheat later or put in the fridge or freezer to serve another day. I like to simmer for a total of 30 minutes to bring out the flavors.
- Five minutes before serving, stir in the chopped spinach, turn off the heat and cover.
Polenta is intimidating to some cooks. I’m a fan of Bob’s Red Mill organic corn grits. It also comes in gluten-free, as does many of their products. The consistency is just right and the flavor is good using either milk or water. Butter can also be stirred in right before serving for extra creaminess.
- Bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a boil and slowly whisk in 2 cups of corn grits.
- Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until the mixture is very thick (approximately 20 minutes). Use a long-handled spoon as mixture bubbles and pops and can burn.
- Ladle into bowls immediately. (If you allow to sit for more than a few minutes, it will develop a “skin” on top, which can be stirred back into the polenta before serving.)
- (For a different presentation you can pour the hot polenta into a greased baking or loaf pan, allow to set for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cutting board and cut into thick slices or rounds/shapes with a cookie cutter. The hot ragout will quickly warm the cooled polenta.)
- Ladle ragout over polenta and finish with toppings of your choice (grated cheese, parsley, basil, olives).