Grilled polenta is delicious and warming topped with smoky braised chickpeas.
'Twas the night before grocery day and the cupboards were bare... But a warming winter meal was still to be had. That's a bit of an exaggeration really. When my 'cupboards are bare' they still contain at least six kinds of rice. Just in case, you know?
We were however almost out of fresh produce and inspiration was thin on the frosty ground. I was pretty delighted with this meal which came together out of mostly store cupboard ingredients, and just a few fresh bits and pieces - garlic, onion, rosemary, mushrooms and spinach.
Instant polenta is a great thing to have lurking in the back of your pantry. It takes just a few minutes to cook and is really versatile. You can eat it soft in place of a vegetable mash or let it set, slice it and grill as an accompaniment to soups, stews or salads. It's also a great potluck dish.
Polenta is traditionally prepared with lashings of dairy - milk or cream, butter and parmesan. Let me assure you it's still delicious without any of these things. The key is to use a well flavoured stock, season it well, and make sure you pack lots of other flavour in with herbs and spices.
For the polenta:
- 1 cup instant polenta
- 4 cups well flavoured vegetable stock (I used store bought liquid stock)
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (I used lemon infused, plain is fine)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 12 black olives roughly chopped
For the chickpeas:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (I used lemon infused plain is fine)
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 button mushrooms sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 can chickpeas drained
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sugar or maple syrup
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A splash of red wine
- Half a bag of baby spinach
For the polenta:
- Put the stock, garlic, oil, rosemary, chilli and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the polenta. Keep stirring! The mixture will thicken quickly and bubble like a Rotorua mud pool. Watch out because it burns like nothing else if it lands on you.
- Stir for 3-4 minutes, then stir through the olives and pour the mixture into a lined slice tin. Let it cool until it stops steaming then put in the fridge for an hour or so or until well set. You can also make this ahead of time and just leave it in the fridge until you're ready to grill it.
- Turn the polenta out onto a chopping board and slice it into whatever shape your heart desires. I went with small triangles, which were easy to turn over in the pan and also looked pretty.
- Heat a griddle pan or frypan over a high heat. If you're using a griddle pan you want it pretty scorching otherwise the polenta will stick. Rub a little olive oil on both sides of the polenta, then add to the pan. Let it sit without moving it until you're sure it's golden (or has grill marks, in the case of the griddle pan) then pray to the kitchen gods that it hasn't stuck, and flip it.
- Once the second side is golden, remove from the pan and keep warm in a low oven until you're ready to serve.
For the chickpeas:
- Heat olive oil in a frypan over a medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook until softening and golden. Add mushrooms and thyme, season with a little salt and stir through. Cook for a few minutes then add chickpeas, tomatoes, smoked paprika, tomato paste, sugar and a splash of red wine. Add a little water if the mixture is on the dry side (depends on your canned tomatoes) - I added about half a cup.
- Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the chickpeas have softened a bit and the sauce has reduced somewhat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and even a bit more sugar if your tomatoes are on the acidic side.
- Stir through the baby spinach and serve on top of, or alongside your grilled polenta.
- If you have fresh rosemary which is flowering, like mine is, then garnish with a few rosemary flowers and congratulate yourself on a dish of great beauty. The flowers are totally edible.