Sunday, January 27, 2008

Polenta, Peas and Leeks

Sometimes, you just don't feel like cooking. Blasphemous, I know. But some days, you come home from work in the pouring rain, some guy elbows you in the ribs all the way home on the train and the LAST thing you want to do when you get home is spend an hour whipping out some elaborately crafted masterpiece.

This is when we whip out what I like to call a "Pantry Dish." Or a meal that can come together in 30 minutes. We keep a lot of staples on hand for these dishes. Throw together some Pomi Boxed Italian Tomatoes, some dried herbs, bulk Olives, cannellini beans or chick peas, and toss with some Barilla Pasta, and you have a meal that's delicious, and it's completely stress free and nearly labor free. "Someday," I thought, "I should write up a post about all the little tricks that go into turning out a fantastic "Pantry Pasta."

But that's NOT what I'm writing about today! Today is about a day last week when we went to the cupboard and about half of those staples were gone, so the Pantry Dish as an option was right out the window.

Sometimes, an even rarer animal comes along, the "Whatever's IN the Pantry Dish," which has to come together out of on-hand ingredients when the last of the pantry staples are exhausted.

We had a leek recipe on deck to be made that evening, perfectly passable, but we neglected to notice that it called for cream, and we didn't have any of that. so we went to the pantry and guess what? No tomatoes, so no quick pasta.

What we did have, was one leek for that cream dish, some instant polenta, and some frozen peas, and some various weird cheeses that we didn't have plans for.

We put on a quart of salted water to boil, and measured out a cup of the instant polenta. (Don't add the polenta until everything else is ready, unlike normal polenta, this instant stuff is done in a few minutes.)

Once the water came to a boil, we were ready to start up the polenta at any time. So we took the leeks and sauteed them for about 8 minutes over medium heat in a pat of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil, with just a little salt. At the last minute, I found some leftover fresh mint in the back of the fridge, so I threw in a litle bit of diced mint as well.

We took about a half cup of hot water and put it in a little bowl over about 5 to 6 strands of saffron to steep. When the leeks were done, we threw in the saffron with the water, threw in the frozen peas (about a cup) adjusted salt to taste, added a little black pepper, turned off the heat, covered it and made up the instant polenta.

The polenta was made with the standard ratio, about four parts water to one part polenta, but this was because our Italian instant polenta didn't have instructions. It's good to have a chart or something with the ratios of grain to water for various cereals, just in case the bag with the cereal gets separated from the instructions. Whole Foods has a little booklet in the bulk aisle that lists them all, and you should be able to get one from them to take home, gratis. Slowly pour in the polenta in a single stream, and mix it with a whisk, and you should be able to get a smooth polenta with no lumps. The polenta will rapidly thicken, and spit hot water all over you like lava, so be careful.

After about five minutes, it will thicken up. We stirred in a little goat cheese at the end, about half of one of those 8 oz packets.

Then we dished it into two bowls, and topped it with the peas and leeks, and a little "Humbold Fog," which is a strong goat cheese brie which has been finished like a blue cheese. It was all very very good.

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