Thursday, June 20, 2013

Baked Polenta with Pesto, Beans, Greens, and Squash

I've been having a bit of a love affair with polenta lately. For one thing, it's extremely versatile, morphing easily from grits to breakfast scrambles to side dishes to hearty baked casseroles like the one below. And its substantial, starchy goodness makes it the perfect comfort food: like the beautiful lovechild of mashed potatoes and pasta. Today's recipe is a particularly fine use of the stuff; adding white beans, orange squash, and leafy greens to a base of podgy yellow yumminess puts everything you need in one place, and that place is your tummy. Add a simple green salad, and you've got a Proper Nutritious Dinner that can be done in about an hour.

Baked Polenta with Pesto, Beans, Greens, and Squash
~ 3 cups chopped, fresh basil
~ 1/2 cup pine nuts
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/4 cup water

~ Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend thoroughly. (There, wasn't that easy?)

Beans, Greens, and Squash
~ 1 small butternut squash, chopped into 2" pieces
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, oregano
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1 15 oz. can white beans, drained
~ 1/2 cup white wine
~ 1 lb. baby spinach, roughly chopped

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Arrange the squash on the baking sheet, coat with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large skillet, heat the remaining tbsp. of olive oil and sauté the mushrooms over high heat about 5 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, salt, thyme, oregano, and pepper and cook about one minute more.
~ Add the beans and the wine; stir thoroughly and cook a few minutes until most of the alcohol burns off.
~ Stir in the pesto, the baby spinach, and the roasted squash; cook until the spinach is just wilted, and remove from heat while you make...

The Polenta
~ 5 cups vegan "chicken" broth
~ 1.5 cups cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill)

~ In a large pot, bring the broth to a rapid boil. Pour in the cornmeal and cook for about ten minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened but still a bit soft.

The Assembly
~ Coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray, add the cooked polenta, and spread evenly with a spatula.
~ Distribute the bean/vegetable mixture on top of the polenta, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
~ Remove the foil and bake another 15-20 minutes, until the topping is slightly browned.
~ Allow to rest a few minutes before serving.

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