What a beautiful few weeks it’s been.
In the aftermath of a hectic month that’s included a whirlwind trip out East, baking for a wedding of 130, followed by sisters stunning wedding last weekend, came many nights of nothing. Nothing. We’re talking buns on couch, wine in hand, sweater wrapped snug around my midsection and toes locked in by moccasin slippers. There might have been some reading. There might have been some movies. But for the most part, my movement has been minimal, at best.
In the slothful days that passed while I was on the couch, something beautiful happened. The air got cooler, gently urging for knitted sweaters and stored blankets to come out of storage, the windows whined to be closed each evening and the unmistakable, intoxicating smell of evening fires and slow roasted dinners made their way into my nose and filled me with feelings of nostalgia. Of course, this can only mean one thing. And that one thing is what I look forward to 365 days a year. Fall. My time.
I have a fairy-tale romance with fall. When I think of it, I get butterflies in my stomach. It’s all I can do to stifle the heavy sighs that escape me when I get a whiff of someone starting a fire, or cooking, what I like to imagine, is roasted chicken, homemade bread and braised vegetables.Can I really sniff out what random people are cooking for dinner every night during the fall? No. But do I imagine everyone, every single one of you, is sitting around a grand table, with friends and family alike, feasting on a spread of roasted, braised, mashed, creamy, rich concoctions? Abso-frigging-lutely.
It’s always a challenge for me to adjust healthily to cooking for the change in season. My stomach urges me to grab for the nearest bag of pasta and block of cheese and eat ooey gooey cheesy pasta every night. Probably not the best decision if I plan on.. you know, making it through fall/winter without exploding.
On a particularly brisk night last week, I decided I would opt out of the pasta and instead reach for the bag of cornmeal. Polenta is comforting in ways pasta can’t quite grasp. It’s smooth and creamy, rich without being heavy. It’s, quite simply, perfect. This time around, I added some crunchy green beans and mushrooms sauteed with thyme and vermouth. It’s a simple dish that’s comforting and perfect for a fall evening.
Polenta with Green Beans and Vermouth Sauteed Mushrooms with Thyme
I use Marcella Hazan’s recipe for No-Stir Polenta. It’s simple and yeilds perfect results every time. If you have your own method you prefer, go with that.
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2-1 cup Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
2 handfuls green beans, trimmed
3 cups cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup vermouth
2 tbsp fresh thyme
salt and fresh ground pepper
In a large heavy pot, bring water and salt to a boil. Once boiling, add the polenta in a thin stream while whisking. Turn heat down to medium-low and stir constantly for 2 minutes until it thickens slightly. Turn heat to low and cover pot, stirring with a large spoon for 1 minutes after every 10 minutes of cooking. It will take about 45 minutes to cook through completely.
While polenta is cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the green beans and cook until bright green but still crunchy, about 1-2 minutes. Dunk beans into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Let sit for a few minutes. Strain and set aside.
Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a heavy pan and place over medium-high heat. Once oil is shiny, add mushrooms and cook, stirring every couple minutes, until deep brown and soft. Add the vermouth and thyme and cook until the liquid is absorbed.
Once polenta has cooked through, add the butter and cheese and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste.
Spoon into bowls and top each bowl with the mushrooms and beans. Serve with extra cheese, olive oil and pepper.
If I had to describe myself in a few words, the ones that would ring most true would likely be: hungry, easy-going, homebody.
The last one is something I never really thought I’d be. According to some, I’m not nearly old enough to have all my ‘party’ out of me. And it’s true. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good time out, dancing, yelling as loud as I can just to be heard by the person 5 inches in front of me, spending $8 on a pint that would otherwise cost me $4, waking up feeling like there’s a team of city workers drilling into the core of my brain… I just really like being home. I like my couch. I like my dog. I like my pyjamas. I like home. A good night at home (mine or someone else’s) with close friends is my idea of ‘doing something’ on a Friday or Saturday night. Dinner, drinks, boardgames, sitting outside on the balcony sipping wine, watching my street change from family-oriented bliss to a bit of a circus after sunset… it’s my ideal way of winding down after a long week sitting at a desk.
I’m lucky that my best friend feels the same way. Balcony dinners have been our ‘thing’ for the past year and a bit (you know, since I moved into a place with a balcony). It’s where we meet to talk about everything we haven’t been able to, and likely things we’ve already talked way too much about. I don’t have to compete with music or drunk college kids or people pushing by me just to hear how her week went. I like that.
As the cooler weather blows into Ottawa and fall approaches, there are precious few nights left we can spend drinking wine and gabbing into the wee hours. We spent Friday out there, and while it wasn’t the warmest, it was sort of nice to bundle in sweaters and socks.
I’ve been wanting to give polenta a second go for some time and figured it seemed appropriate for a cool night. For those who don’t know what polenta is, it’s a fine or medium grain cornmeal (or sometimes Semolina) that’s cooked slowly with liquid until it becomes creamy and soft. I’m sure there is a better, more precise definition for it out there, but you get the jist, don’t you? You might know it better as “grits” which is what it’s called in many southern American states. It can be eaten as a smooth creamy dish or it can be cooled, cut into pieces and fried. I prefer the former method by a long shot. Its creamy, buttery, comforting and can be served with a multitude of other toppings/ingredients. Some recipes I’ve seen call for a mixture of ingredients of many different textures and flavours to create a “Polenta Bar”. I love that idea. But I didn’t have many things on hand Friday evening, so I settled for something simple, and delicious.
You’ll have to forgive my lack of good photos for this post, I was too anxious to eat and was trying to socialize at the same time. I never claimed to be good at multitasking.
Creamy Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms, Scallions and Eggs
I followed Marcella Hazan’s recipe for no-stir polenta with a few minor changes. I highly recommend it if you want perfectly creamy polenta without having to fuss over it.
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal (5 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4-1/2 C fresh grated parmesan
Add polenta to water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-high and whisk 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cover pan, then cook at a bare simmer, stirring with a long-handled spoon for 1 minute after every 10 minutes of cooking, 45 minutes total. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and parmesan until incorporated. Put lid on and keep warm until your vegetables are ready.
Roasted Mushrooms & Scallions
2 C mushrooms of your choice (I used baby portabella), cleaned and cut into one inch cubes
1 C scallions, cleaned/dried/cut into 1-ich pieces
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 450
Add olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to a bowl and let sit for a few minutes while you clean, and prep vegetables.
Toss the chopped mushrooms and scallions with the oil.
Spread out on a baking sheet and roast until browned. About 10 minutes.
While the vegetables are roasting, poach/fry/bake/boil an egg however you like it best. I fried mine but poached would be REALLY good, too.
Put polenta in a bowl, top with your egg and roasted veggies.
Honest to goodness, it’s better than it looks. I only wish I could have captured it’s beauty better.
The polenta is creamy, the scallions are crunchy and add a nice bite to the otherwise rich meal, the mushrooms add some texture and the runny egg just melts into everything else. It’s comforting but doesn’t leave you wanting a nap. And it’s a good meal to share while catching up with your best friend over a bottle of Campofiorin.