Joy on a plate

It’s not a recipe; I didn’t (and usually don’t) keep track of amounts. But this is too easy to make, and too good to miss.

In my quest for gluten-free foodie-ism, corn in its granular state has climbed even higher in my culinary pantheon. It’s not like I didn’t appreciate corn before. I’ve been a corn tortilla aficionado for a long time; always loved grits, instant or real; joined my father in hominy appreciation as a young child; ate too many tamales at Christmas; loved polenta the first time I had it; and thrilled to gorditas, arepas, and pupusas on first bite.

So there is really no good explanation for why I have never bought the Big Yellow Tube O’Polenta before. Except maybe it seemed like a luxury … in which case there is equally no good explanation for why I didn’t whoop up a batch of polenta from scratch. I’d read about it; seen it done; had it in a restaurant … I guess it’s just a case — once again — of over-abundance for those of us with access and the resources to obtain it. There are so many good things to eat, and we tend to fall back on the things we already know how to make well.

Well, gluten intolerance has pretty well kicked me out of that rut. Mindfulness and “pick-something-else” are the watchwords of the brave new world.

So, on a recent trip to the whole foodie store, I picked up the Big Yellow Tube. Admired its heft, shelf-life, lack of need for refrigeration (I love pantry food), and gluten-free potential for Good Mouth Feel. My mouth likes grains: to chew them, feel their textures, taste their … simple complexity? How does something taste both simple and complex at the same time? But grains do … some people don’t like whole grains because they are “boring” or “too chewy” or “too grainy” or whatever. (Well, I don’t like most meats because they are too chewy, too boring, and too meaty, so there you have it.) All I can say is, when I eat whole grains, there is a flavor and mouth-feel in the beginning, and another flavor and feeling in the middle, and whole other flavor and feeling sensation at the end of each bite.

Yeah. I like grains.

But here’s the fun part. As I stood in the aisle holding the polenta, a dish began to form in my head, inspired by the contents of my basket. Cranberry — the tart bite of the berry a perfect spark for polenta’s sweet creaminess and chewy texture. Poblano pepper — some heat to set off the sweet and spike  up the corn, a centuries-old good idea. Green onions — a little of onion’s good acidity and the freshness of the greens cut in for good measure.

Wow, I thought. That would be good.

I was right. It was. It was a few days before the dish came together … I made the sauce a couple of days ago, just a quick saute in a drizzle of olive oil of the cranberries, poblanos and then the green onions at the end. The longer you cook the sauce, the more it breaks down … it’s your call as to the texture you want. I preferred a fresher, chunkier sauce, and next time I will cook it an even shorter time.

Today I sliced up the polenta; six slices at about a 1/4 inch each and half the roll was in the pan (clearly I will need to learn to make my own from scratch), again a saute in olive oil. It took longer to brown and crisp up than I thought it would; I think next time I will not keep the polenta in the fridge, and/or let it come to room temperature first.

Or I could just work on my patience.

So, the slightly browned polenta rounds went on the blue Fiesta plate (yes, very pretty!), topped by the sauce, and it was even better than I imagined. The flavors in the sauce did exactly what I thought they would do, and the contrast of the hot sweet-n-spicy flavors with the corn flavor of the polenta was amazing. Like eating sunshine. And the texture of the polenta was perfect: crisp and chewy, almost like a good cookie, but savory.

It is taking every ounce of willpower I have to keep from going back in the kitchen and frying up the other half of that roll.

But I’ll be good. It’s that time of year. One joy at a time, fully savored, inspiring the desire to share.

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