During the summer months, we spend as much time outside as we possibly can and because it’s hot outside, our dinners tend to be simpler. This week, we had a few cooler days so I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and try something new that I’d never made before. I flipped through Ina Garten's latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook Cooking For Jeffrey and decided on Roasted Ratatouille with Polenta.
The Roasted Ratatouille requires some chopping and the Polenta needs a lot of attention while on the stove, but it’s still a pretty simple and easy recipe. And it looks so pretty when plated. I try to do one meatless day a week so this was a perfect fit, and the leftovers were great for lunch the next day.
Roasting vegetables is one of my favorite ways to prepare them, but make sure to use Ina’s tip and spread them out over two sheet pans. If you squish it all on one pan, they just won’t cook correctly and it could change the texture of the dish.
For the polenta, Ina recommends homemade chicken stock. Thankfully, I had some in the freezer so I was able to thaw and use that. It really is the best and you can freeze it in the clear plastic containers – making it easy to pull out of the freezer as needed. (You can find Ina’s Chicken Stock recipe here or on page 68 of Cooking for Jeffrey). If you don’t have homemade, I like the Trader Joe’s Chicken Broth – I’ve tried a few store-bought stocks and this is the only one that comes close to homemade. I guess if you’re preparing a true meatless version you could use vegetable broth – I’ve never tried, but if you do, let me know how it turns out!
You must be patient with the polenta. Take your time adding the cornmeal and whisking, have music playing or something to keep you from rushing because lumpy polenta is just no good. Ina uses Bob’s Red Mill Medium Grind Cornmeal. It is produced from whole grain corn, so it’s full of fiber and less crumbly (great for corn bread and muffins too). **Ina's tip - The polenta can be made and refrigerated for up to five days ahead of time. To re-heat it, spoon into a large saucepan with chicken stock or water and cook over low heat until smooth and creamy.
Although this isn’t my very favorite dish, it's Ina's go-to comfort food, and I’m happy I tried something new - it has encouraged me to get out of my ‘kitchen comfort zone’ a little more often. I guess that’s how you find new favorites - who know what recipe I’ll be sharing next time!
1½ pounds zucchini (6 to 8 inches long), ends trimmed and 1-inch-diced
1 pound eggplant, unpeeled and 1-inch-diced
1 Holland red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and 1-inch-diced
1 Holland yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and 1-inch-diced
1 red onion, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
½ cup good olive oil (Olio Santo)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 cherry, grape, or small pear tomatoes, halved
¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves
Preheat over to 450 degrees.
Place the zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, onion, garlic, oregano, olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt and 1½ teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour the vegetables onto two sheet pans (if you put them on one pan they will steam instead of roast!). Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and begin to brown.
Lower the over to 425 degrees, add the tomatoes to the pans and roast for another 12 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender. Add the basil and toss. Sprinkle with sale and pepper and server hot over the polenta.
Creamy Parmesan Polenta
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1½ cups stone-ground whole-grain cornmeal (Ina uses Bob’s Red Mill medium-grind stone-ground cornmeal)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons crème fraîche
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Combine the chicken stock and garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and very slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Switch to a wooden spoon, add 1 ½ tablespoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper, and simmer over very low heat for 5 t0 10 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until thick. (The timing will depend on the cornmeal that you choose.) Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly while you’re stirring. Off the heat, stir in Parmesan, crème fraîche, and butter. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.