Polenta may sound fancy, but it is really no more than coarsely ground dried corn kernels, also known as grits. To add extra nutrition and flavor, I stir carrot juice into the cooking liquid. It naturally sweetens the polenta and also lends its happy orange color to the dish. The polenta cooks up solid but not firm, so it’s easy to transfer to a bowl and whisk in some butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for extra creaminess. This makes a fantastic side dish or base to any stew-y topper. Here, I serve it with a saucy tomato-enriched winter squash ragù made with rosemary and white wine. The result is a hearty, comforting bowl that makes me want to tuck into it while curled up in front of a proverbial fireplace with a good book.
For a vegan version, simply substitute non-dairy butter and leave out the cheese (or use vegan cheese).
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 pound winter squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- into bite-size pieces
- 8 ounces brown mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1½ cups carrot juice (see box)
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1¼ cups medium-grind stone-ground cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450°F.
- 2. Place the squash, mushrooms, onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium-size bowl and toss to combine. Turn the vegetables out onto a rimmed sheet pan (reserve the bowl), spread them into an even layer, and roast for 15 minutes.
- 3. Place the tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, remaining tablespoon olive oil, and ¼ teaspoon salt in the previously used bowl and toss to combine.
- 4. Pull the oven rack out partway, place the sheet pan on it, and carefully add the wine and the seasoned tomatoes to the squash mixture, stirring to combine. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and roast until the tomatoes break down and the mixture is very juicy, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the squash ragù back to the bowl (don’t wipe out the pan).
- 5. Return the sheet pan to the oven rack. Carefully add the carrot juice and boiling water. With a fork, stir in the cornmeal a little at a time so there aren’t any lumps and spread the cornmeal into an even layer. (It won’t cook in an even layer but that’s okay—it will all be cooked through.) Bake, uncovered, until the polenta is set, about 20 minutes. (It may still be a little loose in the corners if the liquid pooled to one side of the sheet pan.)
- 6. With a spatula, transfer the polenta to a bowl and, with a whisk or fork, stir in the butter. Divide the polenta among 4 bowls. Top with the ragù and finish with a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.