Thursday, June 21, 2012
Polenta Gratin with Lemony, Garlicky Escarole
I'm going to start this post by professing my absolute hatred of escarole when I was a child. It was just too bitter. Not quite green, but not really brown. When a girl who told her entire first grade class that her favortie food is spinach won't eat a green leafy vegetable, you know there's an issue. Seriously. My grandma's scarole e fagiole left me begging for a PB&J for dinner. I mean, it wasn't as bad as when she made calimari, or tripe, or that time I got the chicken heart in my soup (maybe this is why I became a vegetarian...?), but I really didn't want more than a "no thank-you helping" of that stuff.
Fast forward to age 30 and the giant (to me) head of escarole in my CSA delivery.
I'm not sure if it was actually a giant head of escarole. There were actually some much bigger in the box at the distribution site. We'll go with a medium sized head of escarole. All told it was about 8 cups of chopped escarole. People who actually eat it can tell me if that's a lot or not. I know that I've sort of sworn to eat whatever the CSA throws at me, but honestly, the only reason I didn't put the escarole in the swap box is because the only things in the swap box were lettuce and more escarole.
Then, searching through cookbooks (with some help from Eat Your Books) I came across a recipe for Grits Gratin with Escarole from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Pretty much any vegetable can be made more palatable by putting cheese on it. So I thought I'd give it a go. And it was really, really good. Garlicky, lemon, slightly bitter, but not overly so. The polenta on was crisp and cheesy on top, but creamy inside. It was far superior to my grandma's scarole (sorry, Jay--just in case you have blog feeds in Heaven, but it's true).
Here's the thing about Mr. Bittman though. He talks a good game with all of his "eat less meat" and "omnivores can love meatless meals" talk; however, he never puts enough greens in any of his recipes that call for cooked greens. After I cooked the paltry amount of uncooked escarole. Even to a professed escarole hater, it seemed like a minuscule amount if one was going to saute and then bake. I started out following the recipe to a T (in which case I wouldn't have posted it), but when it became clear that there was almost no escarole in the pan after I finished stirring it around with the burner off, I decided to just go ahead a chop up another two cups of escarole. Then after I actually ate it, I decided I could have just chopped up the entire head of escarole and it would have been the perfect amount of greens. I sauteed them the next night and added it to the leftovers. Of course, if you were to serve this with sides, this might not be the case. But I doubt it.
I made this on Sunday, when the high was predicted to be a mere 74 as opposed to 96. I promise some more "I haven't put my A/C in and it's nearly 100 degrees and I live in a fifth floor walk-up" recipes next week. :-)
Polenta Gratin with Lemony, Garlicky Escarole
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Bittman)
For the polenta:
2 c water
1 c milk (or 1 additional c water)
big pinch of salt
1 c medium to coarsely ground cornmeal (polenta)
For the greens:
1/4 c olive oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 t sugar
1 medium(ish?--see above) head of escarole, well washed and chopped (about 8 cups)
freshly ground black pepper
the zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
To make the polenta
Combine milk, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the water comes just to a boil add the cornmeal, slowly in a thin stream, whisking to avoid clumps--I've tried a number of different methods for this and I find that taking a handful of cornmeal with with left hand and letting it fall from my fist in a thin stream while I whisk with my right works best. Once all of the cornmeal has been whisked in simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the mixture is thickened. Pour into a greased loaf pan and let stand for at least 10 minutes (or refrigerate until the next day when you prepare the rest of the meal).
To make the escarole and put together the gratin
Preheat the oven to 350.
Heat 2 T of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and garlic cloves and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is soft and golden (about 10 min). Remove from heat. Add the escarole, salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice. Stir. The greens should collapse.
Turn the polenta out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut the polenta into 1/2" thick slices. Place the slices of polenta on top of the escarole mixture. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
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