(potentially) Meatless Monday: Pan Seared Polenta With Tomato Sauce

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Hi!  As we transition from spring into summer, I naturally want to cook less.  This usually translates into making a lot more salads and using the grill.  Here's a recipe that you can make for another couple weeks while it's not too warm:  pan seared polenta.

I can remember my first polenta experience was in college, in the vegetarian line in the cafeteria (I went to a small school whose dining options were cafeteria or to-go counter).  While I wasn't then and still am not a vegetarian, there are a lot of times meatless dishes can be more interesting than meat-centric dishes, and in the cafeteria at my school, the vegetarian line was usually one of the most creative and tasty lines.  This dish recalls those days, when you're looking for something just a little different.

For those that are from the South and have never tried polenta, polenta is basically grits made from yellow corn rather than white.  It can be cooked to a softer consistency like grits, or it can be cooked and cooled to firm up, as in this recipe.

The recipe takes some prep and planning, but is mostly passive prep time, and the active prep is easy.  I am linking to the original recipe on epicurious.com as it was out of the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, but I am posting as I made it.

Pan Seared Polenta
to serve 4 adults

4 cups water
4 Tb. olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal)
Freshly ground black pepper
Tomato based sauce of your choice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish on rimmed baking sheet. Combine 4 cups water, 1 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt in dish. Gradually mix in polenta.
Place baking sheet with polenta in oven. Bake polenta 1 hour. Add pepper and stir to blend. Bake 20 minutes. Stir again and spread evenly. Bake until polenta is very thick, about 20 minutes longer. Cool polenta to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours (polenta will become firm). Using metal spatula, press polenta all over to even thickness. 

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; chill.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut polenta lengthwise into 3 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 or 4 squares. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add polenta squares. Sauté until crisp and beginning to color, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer polenta to small baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining polenta, adding oil to skillet as needed.

  • I usually bake the polenta the night before and then will pan sear it the day I want to actually cook it
  • The Bon Appetit recipe link (recipe title) also gives the recipe for a spicy tomato basil sauce.  If you promise not to judge me, I'll confess that I usually use a doctored-up jarred sauce.  Here's where you can add meat if you want.
  • Serve with a nice green salad and you've got a great, lighter meal!

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