It’s been a whirlwind of days: lunches in the classroom, baking up a storm, co-hosting the 8th grade graduation picnic for eighty, helping make an auction breakfast for twenty.
It feels like it’s been go-go-go, and one night this week I was so tired that we almost went out for dinner, but then last minute I decided a bubble bath, dinner at home and a great movie would be much more enjoyable. And relaxing.
My hubby asked me if I would make him a steak with a side of polenta. It’s one of his favorite foods, and it was about time that he got to pick what’s for dinner; usually I decide mid-afternoon what I’m craving and then send him out for supplies.
I told myself that I could do this. Even in my wiped out state.
The flank steak marinated in balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and garlic and it came off the grill smelling scrumptious and cooked perfectly medium rare.
And just before I put the steak on the grill, I’d started the polenta.
An aside. One time a friend came over for lunch and she was shocked that I’d made polenta.
You’d have thought that I’d just performed open heart surgery on my kitchen island — that’s how complicated and overwhelming polenta-making seemed to her.
Let’s all agree here, shall we? Polenta really couldn’t be any easier.
For those not familiar, polenta is stirred into boiling salted water (usually a 3-4 ratio of water to polenta), and once it is brought back to a boil it is then turned down to a steady simmer.
For the next thirty minutes or so, give it a couple quick stirs every five minutes or so, adding a splash of milk or water if it gets too thick. Top with butter when done (grains will no longer be chewy and it will be supple and tender) and adjust with salt and pepper.
How hard is that?
Not hard at all, and so delicious. And versatile.
That’s the amazing thing about polenta — it’s the little black dress in the pantry-stable world.
Dress it down with sausage and a dab of marinara sauce. Or adorn with sauteed morels or chanterelles and a drizzle of truffle oil.
Want to spruce it up? Pair roasted radicchio with ribbons of prosciutto and add a little chopped oregano. How about roasted chopped fennel or brussel sprouts and a bit of goat cheese?
Or maybe you should just mimic Zuni Restaurant in San Francisco and serve it simply with a dollop of tangy mascarpone and cracked pepper. Heaven.
I wasn’t craving the steak so much, so I thought about how I could turn my polenta into a main attraction. I looked into my fridge to see what was hanging out and looking for a little action.
Since the grill was already on, I threw a handful of oil-licked asparagus spears on for a quick sear. I had pesto on hand and instead of my usual Parmesan or Pecorino, I thought the nuttiness of Manchego might make for an interesting turn atop my polenta pal.
For those who enjoy steel-cut oatmeal, think of this concoction as its grown up, nocturnal sister. Velvety, creamy, and deeply restorative. The pesto, asparagus and Manchego was something I’d never tried with polenta before, and I loved it.
(Perhaps the next time I take polenta for a spin, I will invite tapenade and grilled eggplant on a ride-along?)
Ah, what a great way to top off a hectic week. A lemongrass bubble bath, a big bowl of this polenta and a viewing of Blood Simple (the Coen brother’s first offering is a film noir beast).
My batteries are now recharged.
And so now, Happy Graduation to all my 8th grade buddies.
Nine plus years together. Last night’s student reflections made me think, my son’s speech made me cry, and sending off the one-in-one octillion Mr. Streckert to retirement nearly sent me over the edge.
So thank you fellow parents, amazing staff at Beverly Cleary School, and the 8th grade graduating class — my heart brims with gratitude for being a part of this amazing community.
Happy Summer, y’all!