Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polenta with Greens

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the extraordinary fortune to spend my junior year living abroad in Rome. There was only a small group of people staying for the full year, and an even smaller group who stayed through the five weeks of Christmas break. Two of those weeks were absorbed by my family’s visit, and we spent one week in Egypt. During the term time, most of our meals were eaten in the school’s mensa, or cafeteria. We, of course, took many trips off campus for pizza, gelato, arancini, and spaghetti bolognese, but it was always nice to have the safety net of mensa food. But, during Christmas break, we were left entirely to fend for ourselves with only a microwave for help. It was during this time that my friend Claire and I discovered the joy of tomato crackers and cream cheese. I ate bags of clementines to ward off scurvy. We ordered a lot of take out from the trattoria down the street that made the most amazing supplí and penne ai quattro formaggi. We even found a British grocery store that sold cans of Campbell’s soup.

In this carnival of strange food choices, there is one meal that stands out. There was a caffé in the basement of our building run by the sweetest married couple (he was charming, but she wore the pants). We went downstairs to fortify ourselves against the unheated building with cappuccinos and earl grey tea, when Signora Rinaldi gave us something far better. She brought out a huge plate of polenta topped with greens and parmesan cheese. It was, hands down, the best food we ate during those few cold weeks. It was warm, creamy, salty, and delicious. The greens were bright and crisp, and possibly the only vegetables I ate that week. Five years later, and a certified vegephile, I remembered this dish and craved it madly. It’s perfect for fall and cold nights, by the fire with a glass of wine.

1 cup polenta ( a coarse yellow cornmeal)
4 cups water
1 bunch greens (kale, collards, dandelion greens, etc), removed from the stem and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, light green and white part only, sliced finely
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Whisk polenta into the water. Simmer for an hour, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Polenta is done when the corn meal is tender and the edges of the polenta pull away from the pot.

In a small pot, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Add your greens to the pot and sauté until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and season with salt.

Spoon polenta onto a plate, and top with the greens. Serve immediately!

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