Vegetable & Polenta Bake

A little while back I wrote about the meal L and I made as part of my birthday gift: grass fed beef tenderloin served over polenta with a chocolate dipping sauce. I had never worked with polenta before, but since that meal I have been left with a whole pack of it to try to go through. A couple of months ago, I decided to try my hand at the ingredient again, and came up with a fairly satisfying meal: a vegetable and polenta bake. It wasn't a recipe; I just found vegetables and followed instructions I had found online for making the polenta itself. What I came out with was a relatively bland but texturally enjoyable meal; I served it with seasoned chicken, so the lack of flavor from the polenta became much less of an issue. Some parts of the recipe turned out as I had hoped, others...not so much. But I still stand behind the core idea of this recipe, so you get to hear about it, anyway.

After reading pages upon pages of tips for making polenta, I found myself more than just a little intimidated. If you're like me, I encourage you to try it, anyway. The way I'm going to tell you to make it is very easy, and I think it turned out pretty creamy, for not having used any actual cream in the recipe. If you aren't going to serve it with some seriously flavorful alternate dish as I did, or if you like to eat your foods separately (as I don't), I would recommend adding some herbs, maybe some marinara sauce and - dare I say it? - a little pinch of salt. Without the protein aspect, this would make a nice, light meal, but a small side of meat certainly rounds it out nicely. I chose somewhat Spring-oriented vegetables, more or less accidentally, but you could adapt this for any season, I think.

I definitely intend to become better with polenta, getting a little bit more creative and wacky with my recipes. It seems like such a versatile, interesting ingredient to incorporate into recipes, as long as you know what to do with it. Baking it as I did here is only one of many ways to make it, each creating a slightly different texture and offering a slightly different component to the overall meal.
Vegetable & Polenta Bake
Yield: 2-3 servings

The Ingredients
1/2 cup instant (but not already prepared) polenta
1 1/3+ cup water, milk or cream
2-3 teaspoons desired herbs/spices
3/4 - 1 plum tomato, sliced
1/4 - 1/3 bunch of asparagus (maybe 6 stalks), chunked
1/4 cup mushrooms, quartered if big
2 tablespoons red onion, coarsely chopped
3-4 tablespoons parmesan cheese
spinach or salad greens, for serving

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and combine the polenta, liquid and in a baking dish. Toss the tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms in a scant amount of oil and place on a baking sheet (additional seasonings may be added here). Place both the polenta and the vegetables in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes of baking*, transfer the roasted vegetables along with the red onion to the polenta dish, and finish baking for another 10 minutes. Toward the end, sprinkle the bake with parmesan and allow to melt as desired. Serve over a bed of greens, optionally.

*If you'd like to add something like marinara sauce, pesto, etc., I would recommend spreading it as a thin layer over the polenta just before topping with the vegetables.

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