Polenta is a Mediterranean standby: coarse-ground cornmeal cooked until it becomes tender and creamy, an inexpensive and delicious peasant food used throughout Italy with vegetables and cheese as a golden, tasty alternative to pasta. But the traditional way of cooking it involved many long minutes of stirring. Not this version!
Find out how you can cook polenta in the oven without any stirring at all, and then make this simple, satisfying gratin with garlic, olive oil, spring greens, and cheese. A healthful boost for the whole family, and easy, too:
1 cup medium-ground or coarse cornmeal, preferably organic stone-ground
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound mixed tender greens, such as spinach, arugula, watercress, or kale, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In an oiled 3-quart ovenproof skillet, stir together the cornmeal, water, and salt. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, chile flakes, and a pinch of black pepper; cook for 1 minute. Pour half the oil into a 1 1/2 or 2-quart ovenproof serving dish, reserving the garlic in the skillet, and then pour another tablespoon into a cup to be drizzled over the final dish. Brush the seasoned oil all over the inside of the serving dish. Add the chopped greens to the oil and garlic remaining in the skillet, cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the garlic. Season the greens with salt and pepper. Uncover the greens and increase the heat at the end to evaporate any liquid.
3. When the polenta has cooked 40 minutes, quickly stir in the greens and half of the cheese until combined. Taste and add salt if needed. Transfer to the oiled ovenproof serving dish, drizzle with the reserved oil, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted, another 10 minutes. Serve hot.