Recipe: End of Summer Harvest Polenta

My garden is almost ready to bed down for the winter.  The zucchini, pumpkin and melon vines have shrivelled to nothing, the rocket has bolted, and this evening I went out to pull up my basil plants, pick the last of my tomatoes, and harvest a final handful of tiny capsicums, and five corn cobs ranging in size from medium-small to positively miniature.

Last harvest of the summer

Last harvest of the summer

If I have time in between my intensive Easter singing schedule (new personal best this year, with five services over four days, not counting Palm Sunday services and the Saint Matthew’s Passion I’m singing in on April 5-6), it will soon be time to weed and dig and compost and maybe put in some winter vegetables that will give nutrients back to the ground.

But in the meantime, it’s time to celebrate the dying summer with this beautiful feast from my garden! 

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This polenta has it all – it’s soft and creamy, with a little crunch from the fresh corn and plenty of smokey heat from the chipotle pepper (it’s smokey outside, too, which is probably why chipotle pepper seemed so irresistible to me).  To accompany it, I’ve slow-roasted my tomato harvest, turned my basil and parsley into a creamy purée with cannelini beans, olive oil and lemon juice, and sautéed up a lot of capsicums and onions to add some crunch.

Gorgeous.

Also, a quick announcement before I give you the recipe itself – as you may have gathered, I will be singing the Saint Matthew Passion with the Melbourne Bach Choir at the start of April.  It’s going to be a rather gorgeous – and enormous! – performance, with three large choirs (I’m in Choir 2, which spends a lot of time interjecting with questions and interrupting arias with gratuitous chorales and choruses), an orchestra, and six soloists.  If you like serious Baroque Oratorio, I recommend it (and you can buy tickets here). 

Anyway, the unfortunate side-effect of all this glorious music is that I will be out at rehearsals every night next week until quite late… which means I am unlikely to be cooking *or* blogging much over the next ten days or so.  I shall try to pop in to say hello, but if I don’t, you know why…

Your Shopping List

For the tomatoes
600 g tomatoes, preferably randomly sized and coloured and from your garden!
olive oil
salt, pepper

For the polenta

1 cup polenta
4 cups water
salt, pepper
1 chipotle chilli in adobo
150 g fresh corn kernels
25 g butter
1/3 cup cheese
For the puree
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
400g tinned cannelini beans, drained
50 g pistachios
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
For the rest
olive oil
2 onions
6 long sweet peppers, multicoloured

 

Now what will you do with it?

Start with the tomatoes.  Cut the big ones into wedges, the medium-sized (large cherry tomato, say) in half, and leave the teeny tiny ones whole.  Toss them with a little oil, salt and pepper in a 20 cm square tin, and cook for an hour at 150°C…

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… until they are soft and sweet.

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Now for the polenta.  Bring four cups of water to the boil in a largeish saucepan.  Chop the chipotle chilli finely, and have your corn kernels ready to go and your polenta measured out.  You will also need a whisk.  OK.  Is the water boiling?  Great!  Throw in a big pinch of salt and the corn kernels, then use one hand to slowly pour in the polenta and the other to madly whisk the water, so that the polenta doesn’t clump.  You will find that the whole thing will start to thicken very fast.  Turn the heat right down, add the chipotle chilli, stir well, and then cover the polenta and let it cook very slowly for 40 minutes.  You will come back to stir it with a wooden spoon every ten minutes.

Now make the purée, which you do by sticking everything in a blender and puréeing until smooth.

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Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar. Scrape out into a bowl and seal, so that it won’t oxidise.

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Stir the polenta again, and start on the vegetables.  Slice the onions into half moons and the peppers into short, fat strips.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, and add the onions and peppers.  Stir around and sauté over high heat for a minute or two, then leave on high heat for a few minutes while you wander off and do something else.  This will allow some of the of the peppers and onions to get a bit charred (which will never happen if I’m standing over it, because I can’t resist stirring), and everything to get soft.  Now you can stir it, turn down the heat to low, and keep stirring occasionally.

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When the tomatoes and polenta are done (which they will be at roughly the same time), turn off the oven and the stove and add the tomatoes to the skillet with the peppers.

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Add the butter, cheese and a little salt and pepper to the polenta, and stir well.  Divide it between four plates, top with the vegetables, and then with the puree.

Serve, ideally while you are inside and the rain is falling outside and you can hear it while you are having your nice, warm dinner.

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Variations

This meal is gluten free, vegetarian and egg-free.  It’s so-so in terms of glycemic index – you get points for the beans, but lose them for the polenta.  There are, obviously, nuts in the purée, though it would probably work without (it would just be runnier).

In terms of fructose, the onion will do you no good at all, and there is probably a bit too much corn to be ideal, either (corn tends to be an ‘eat in moderation’ ingredient, and there is nothing moderate about this corny cornfest), so you might be out of luck on this one.  Vegans and those who are dairy free can skip the butter and cheese in the polenta with no ill-effects – I’d add a little extra virgin olive oil at the end for richness, and a bit of extra salt, too, and you’re golden.  I might also add a few more nuts to the purée, to up the protein content.

In terms of other variations – well, this really is supposed to be a celebration of whatever you are harvesting.  So you could have coriander instead of basil, if that’s what your garden holds, or you could sauté up some assorted zucchini or summer squashes instead of the peppers (I’d be inclined to add a bit of chilli to the mix in that case, and maybe some cumin, too).  Eggplant would be great, too.  You could make a guacamole instead of the purée, and I reckon that would be fantastic. And obviously, feel free to adjust your vegetable quantities based on what you have on hand.  It will be awesome, whichever way you go.

Accidental forced-perspective shot showing miniature cat and giant bowl of veggies...

Accidental forced-perspective shot showing miniature cat going about her business beneath a giant, howevering bowl of veggies…

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One year ago: Farmers’ Market: Slow Food, All the Pie, and Mail Order Delights
Two years ago: Recipe: New World Stovetop Veggie Feast
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