Sunday, 3 February 2008

Polenta and Tomato Comforts

Last night I dug out a recipe I have not made for years. I discovered it and made it frequently when I lived in Edinburgh. This was a time when life was stressful – I was just settling into a new town, our flat was cold and damp, and my job was demanding. So it was great to have a recipe to turn to that was easy and comforting. At the end of a busy day it was reassuring to sit at our little table, eat this warm mushy polenta with tomato sauce and remind ourselves how lucky we were to be able to eat out dinner with a fine view of Edinburgh Castle.

I am sending this to Meeta for her Monthly Mingle which this month is all about comfort. So I thought about what comfort food is – nostalgia, easy and simple are words that come to mind. The polenta mush is so soothing. It demands so little as it effortlessly slips down the throat. The tomato sauce is delicious in its simplicity. And melted cheese is the perfect indulgent topping on any comfort food. The ingredients are pantry staples and readily available at supermarkets. I used fresh basil rather than sundried tomato paste because for once I found the remains of a bunch of basil had not turned to soup in the fridge. I think in the past I just used plain tomato paste. I have also made it with common cheddar rather than gruyere and it works equally well. No fuss. No stress. Just an easy comforting meal.

Although the polenta with tomatoe sauce can be eaten alone, I prefer to serve it with some other vegetables. Again, I turned to what was available rather than rushing out to the shops. Peas are a great standby. I had the remains of a bag in the freezer and cooked them in the microwave like my mum does. I found a recipe for a delectable carrot salad which was serendipitous because I had carrots and spring onions in need of attention in my fridge. (The salad is also brilliant for lunch with cheese on toast.) I also like to just steam some broccoli to serve with the polenta. But when seeking comfort, just go for whatever is easiest!

Soft Polenta with Tomato Sauce
(adapted from 30 Minute Vegetarian by Joanne Farrow)
Serves 4

1½ cups (250g) instant polenta
1 litre water or vegetable stock
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp parmesan cheese (or more)
Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, basil etc (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
400g can diced tomatoes
½ cup chopped basil (or 3 tbsp sundried tomato paste)
1 tsp raw sugar
80g gruyere cheese (or cheddar), grated

Bring water or stock to boil (if not using stock add 1 tsp salt) in a large saucepan. Add polenta in a steady stream, then garlic. Stir over low heat for 5 minutes until polenta is thick and pulpy. Add parmesan and herbs if using. Check seasoning. Spoon into a greased shallow oven-proof dish.

Heat oil in saucepan and fry onion over medium heat for 5-8 minutes until it is soft. Add tomatoes, basil or tomato paste, and sugar. Season. Pour over the polenta.

Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 200 C for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.

Carrots with Lime and Mint
(adapted from 30 Minute Vegetarian by Joanne Farrow)
Serves 4 as a side

4 medium carrots
4 spring onions
2 tbsp lime juice (or juice of 1 lime)
2 tsp castor sugar
½ tsp chilli paste
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
(options suggested that I didn’t fancy – celery sticks and peanuts)

Peel the carrots (this is optional depending on how you feel about peeling). Use a vegetable peeler to peel long ribbons off each carrot. I found it easiest to lie the carrot on the chopping board and push the peeler along the carrot away from my body. I had a small core of carrot leftover from each carrot –a thrifty person might use it for stock. Cut spring onions into 2 inch (5 cm) lengths and shred lengthways. The recipe suggest placing vegetables in ice cold water for 15-20 minutes til they curl but I am not patient or organised enough. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and add to vegetables. Toss to coat and serve.

On the stereo:
Maid of Constant Sorrows: Judy Collins


  1. As a child, I hated polenta, but now I love it! My mother used to make a cereal-like mixture of cooked polenta (cornmeal) with cottage cheese, topped with maple syrup, like porridge.

    Yours looks terrific, and yes, very comforting! I think I could use some in this freezing winter weather. . .

  2. Thanks ricki - I don't think I had polenta as a child, but I love it as an adult - it is a great winter warmer!

  3. This carrot salad sounds great.
    I shall try it (without chili pasta though, but with powdered piment d'espelette instead).

  4. I love polenta and this spells pure comfy to me!

  5. thanks SpacedLaw - I think the carrot salad is very flexible but it is easy and tastes good so I recommend it any way you like!

    thanks Meeta - I agree that polenta is such a comforting dish!


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)