Baked Polenta with Collard Greens

You know what the most delightful food in the whole world is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not chocolate. It’s not even dessert.

Overexposed collard greens taste best.

That’s right. It’s collard greens.

I know what you’re thinking. You think I’ve gone mad with the heat and have forgotten what is best in life.  (To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. Also, collard greens. Conan will never keep up his strength without proper nutrients.)

Why are greens so amazing? Well, first of all they taste fresh and delightful. Second, you can eat them when you’re sick. Chocolate loses all appeal when I’m not feeling well, but something simple and savory does the trick every time. Third, they contribute to completely guilt-free comfort food. Also, OM NOM NOM GREENS. Okay, maybe the heat is getting to me a little bit. But you should try this. It’s yummy.

Ingredients (serves two as a side dish or one as a meal. Easily doubled/quadrupled/whatever)

2 cups water

1/2 cup dry polenta

4-6 leaves collard greens

1 T butter (optional)

1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided

Directions

Pour the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Pour the polenta over it and bring the water down to a simmer.  Leave it alone for now. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stir polenta constantly, just give it a quick stir every five minutes or so.

Wash the collard greens thoroughly. Cut out the big rib, especially if it’s white. White ribs are tough and yuck. Roll the leaves into a cylinder, and cut the cylinder into narrow (1/4 inch) strips. This is called chiffonade. It’s not hard.

Keep stirring the polenta every few minutes (I just stood in the kitchen with a book. Makes it go faster.) until the polenta is very thick. if you eat polenta or grits, you’ll know when it’s done. If you don’t, what you’re looking for is the point where “liquid” or “muddy” no longer describe the texture, and “sticky” or “wet cement” do.

At this point, stir in the greens a handful at a time. It looks like you have a much greater volume of greens than polenta, but they stir in nicely. I used five big leaves, and sort of wanted more.

Turn the oven on to 450°F. Continue stirring on the stove 3-5 more minutes, to properly cook the greens and let their flavor infuse the polenta. Stir in half of the parmesan and the butter, if using, as well.

You could just eat it now, but I like polenta best baked. So scoop it into a small cast iron pan, or another oven-safe dish, and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.

Don’t be shy with the cheese, either. This stuff is great.

Pop the pan in the oven for 5-7 minutes, just long enough for the cheese and top layer of polenta to turn a rich golden color but not long enough to leave any crispy burned greens.

Serve hot in wedges with crudités or salad. Or eat it all on its own at the end of a long day. Nothing quite beats it.

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  1. #1 by Karen on July 11, 2011 - 9:59 AM

    Hello, Your polenta with greens dish sounds wonderful. I love greens and cornbread and now you have taken a southern dish and made it Italian. I can’t wait to try it because I love baked polenta.

    • #2 by koshercorvid on July 11, 2011 - 11:42 AM

      I actually think of polenta as a Southern dish. I mean, it’s just corn grits. Corn is a new-world grain, so this is way closer to an ancient American dish than anything else. For bonus points, chop in some hot peppers.

      It made me really grumpy to see that the bag of grits I bought claims that Polenta was eaten by the Roman armies. It wasn’t. Farro was, and emmer, and triticum wheat (similar to the wheat used for semolina), but corn had to be brought back from the Americas before Rome could embrace it. Tomatoes, too. I’d love an Italian cookbook that predates the discovery of America. I think it’d be shockingly different.

  2. #3 by James on July 27, 2011 - 7:05 PM

    Similarly, I can’t even begin to imagine what Indian or Thai cooking must have been like before hot peppers were brought back from the new world.

    I can’t remember the last time I tasted collard greens, but this recipe looks fool-proof enough I may need to pick some up grocery shopping this weekend.

    • #4 by koshercorvid on July 27, 2011 - 10:24 PM

      You’ve wondered at the right place! I have a book (I won’t quite call it a cookbook) called Medieval Cuisine of the Modern World, and the Indian recipes in it seem to indicate a great deal of turmeric, peppercorns, cumin, coriander and cardamom, with a heavy preference for mixing rosewater and cinnamon in sweetened rice. It does also contain recipes for eggplant, though, and I’m not sure if eggplant is New World like so many nightshades (research time!), so the source might include slightly later ingredients. I’ll see if I can find translations of any more original sources.

      As for the polenta, it’s just as good with mustard greens or spinach. I’m just on a collard greens kick.

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