A few weeks ago John and I went into the city to look for art. Our walls are bare (except for our gorgeous ketubah — a Jewish marriage contract), and for some delusional reason, we thought, “Hey! Let’s go buy art in the city!” This, of course, is not a possibility unless you’ve got a substantial art budget.
Needless to say, our current priorities are good food and baby-related expenses, so… unless we’re able to find art at local markets or art fairs, NYC and its’ local art galleries are probably not for us.
Anyway, our morning wasn’t a complete bust. We were about to leave the city empty handed when John pulled over and surprised me with a pitstop at a local bookstore. Kitchen Arts & Letters is a fantastic little shop on the Upper East Side that is devoted entirely to cookbooks and, more generally, books in the food and drink genre.
In other words, I’m moving in.
I felt slightly overwhelmed (I was caught off guard by the sheer quantity of cookbooks), but jumped at the opportunity to take something new home with me. I ended up with a gorgeous vegetarian cookbook: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli born chef who is now a successful restaurant owner in the UK.
What’s so wonderful about these vegetarian recipes is that they’re written by a non-vegetarian. Yotam is not, and has never been, a vegetarian. He does write a vegetarian column for a local UK paper, but throughout his book he suggests both meat-free and animal-friendly options to pair with each recipe. This has upset a number of his veggie-only readers, but for this meat-eater, it’s perfect.
This homemade polenta and eggplant was, in a word, stellar. I can’t wait to see what else the book has to offer.
And to anyone searching for innovative vegetarian recipes: I highly recommend checking out this cookbook!
Cut a medium eggplant into 1-inch cubes.
Sauté in some olive oil for about 15 minutes.
Nice and brown!
Drain off as much oil as possible, then add tomato paste and stir.
Cook for two minutes, then add wine (or tomato sauce), chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar, and oregano.
That’s it! Eggplant sauce is done.
Next up, polenta.
Place corn kernels in a pot and cover with water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the kernels to a food processor. Process for a few minutes, until you’re left with a corn paste.
Pour the corn mixture back into the cooking water, then cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture takes on a mashed potato-like consistency. (This took me a little more than 15 minutes.)
Fold in butter, feta, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
In a large bowl, spoon up some polenta, then top with eggplant sauce and a little fresh feta.
Comfort in a bowl.
In winter, I love serving polenta with sautéed wild mushrooms. This summer take on the dish is hearty enough to fill you up, but light enough to eat during the warmest months (assuming you’re sitting in front of the AC, of course).
To cut down the cooking time, you could always use store bought polenta… but trust me when I say there’s no comparison between instant polenta and homemade. Take advantage of the fresh summer corn while you can.
It takes some effort to pull this all together, but this is a seriously impressive dish. You’re gonna love it!
Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce
*Recipe from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Yields: 4 servings
Time: 15 min prep, 1 hr cooking
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 1/4 cup white wine (I substituted tomato sauce since that’s what I had open)
- 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 6 1/2 tbsp water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped oregano
- 6 ears of corn
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 3 tbsp butter, diced
- 7 oz feta, crumbled
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the eggplant sauce: heat up the oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until nicely brown. Drain off as much oil as you can and discard it.
- Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine (or tomato sauce) and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes to get a deep-flavored sauce. Set aside; warm it up when needed.
- To make the polenta: remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels. You want to have 1 1/4 lbs of kernels.
- Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid. Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
- Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency (this took me longer than 15 minutes).
- Fold in the butter, feta, salt and some pepper, and cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed. Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce in the center.