Polenta is cooked cornmeal, and it’s North Italian food – the pasta substitute of the Alps. It always reminds me of mountains and of my great-aunt Margaret, who bakes it with caramelized onions & cheese for a stellar comfort food side. This recipe has one foot in that cozy comfort – polenta, onions, cheese – and the other firmly in sharp spring – asparagus, lemon, peas. Yes please.
If you’ve never made or eaten polenta before, think of it in the same category as couscous or rice – a mellow, appetite-appeasing base that pairs well with bold flavours. It’s cheap, easy, healthy, and super adaptable to different cooking methods. That said, it’s not much on its own. Don’t skimp on salt & cheese, and consider cooking it in a combination of water and stock to infuse additional flavour. Leftovers keep well in the fridge, but note that the polenta texture will change from creamy to firm with the cold.
adapted from My New Roots
1 cup cornmeal
4 – 5 cups vegetable broth or water
2 small onions, finely diced
10-12 spears of asparagus, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, or a combination of peas and corn
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnishing
1 lemon, zested
1. In a medium saucepan, heat 4 cups of water or broth with a pinch of salt until simmering. Slowly and while whisking, pour the cornmeal into the water. Continue to whisk for a few minutes to ensure that there are no clumps, and then reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until creamy and smooth, about 30-40 minutes. It should no longer feel gritty. If the polenta becomes difficult to stir, add all or some of the remaining cup of water/broth and whisk in.
2. Meanwhile: When the polenta has been cooking for about 20 minutes, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onions with a pinch of salt, and saute until translucent. Add peas (or peas and corn), asparagus, and lemon zest. Cook for 2-3 minutes, and then remove from heat. Squeeze the juice from the lemon overtop, and season to taste.
3. Stir the 1/2 cup of grated cheese into the polenta, and season to taste. Ladle polenta onto a plate and top with cooked vegetables, grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.