Thursday, August 18, 2011

I know my ABC's! Asparagus, Broiling, and Corn Grits (Polenta)

Ok, I have a dirty little secret which I am only sharing so at-home cooks who share my plight may comfortably come into the fold...I had never used a broiler until last night. OH YES my friends! I have played the "sophisticated chef" for years, all the while avoiding use of a broiler out of fear...until last night.

You see, the other day I found a recipe on SELF Magazine's website for polenta with roasted asparagus (one of my faves) and zucchini, drizzled in a roasted red pepper sauce. Well, I don't have a grill so in the summer, roasting has a special place in my routine meals. I also had never made polenta and I thought this would be a delicious, light meal. So I made a special trip to the store, ensuring my kitchen was adaquately stocked for my version of this recipe. When I got home and was reading through the recipe again while gathering my equipment, I saw that every.thing in the recipe except the sauce was BROILED! I'm not sure how I missed this large "detail" the first couple times I glanced over it, but miss it, I did. However, I often think things happen for a reason and decided that this clearly happened so I might conquer my unreasonable fear of the broiler. And let me tell ya, I love broiling! I doubt I'll cook any other way ever again!

For those of you who don't know what broiling is, many ovens have a setting on them that only turns on the top of the oven, directing intense heat to the top of foods. It is an excellent substitute to grilling, especially on a rainy day or if you are preparing the majority of the meal in the kitchen and do not have time to keep an eye on the grill outside as well. For some great broiling advice in detail check out this link! 

Now to the recipe, I adjusted it a bit as the only veggies I wanted to use were asparagus and zucchini, but you can use any roasting vegetables. The original recipe used asparagus, japanese and italian eggplant, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. SELF Magazine also only seasoned their polenta with cayenne pepper, whereas I used my supply of Emril's Essence which I make and then store in an airtight container for months. I highly recommend making yourself some one evening, it is basically a mix of everything you have in your spice drawer and saves the time of sprinkling "a little of this and a little of that"

Emril's "All Purpose" Essence
     2 1/2 Tbsp paprika
     2 Tbsp salt
     2 Tbsp garlic powder
     1 Tbsp black pepper
     1 Tbsp onion powder
     1 Tbsp cayenne pepper (I only use 1/2 Tbsp because I don't want everything I use it in to have that much heat)

Ok, so fun with computers-somehow the rest of this post was deleted after I wrote it the first time...I'm going to attempt to recreate it as best I can...just another lesson to always back everything up!

Now to the actual recipe! When I originally made this recipe and had it for dinner, it was good. I won't post anything on here with the rating "good" so I was slightly concerned that I would have nothing to share from the experience. The main hitch was the sauce...there was just something a little off about it...something was missing and I couldn't figure it out. The next day I took it to work for lunch, it reheated really well...but there was still something not quite right. Then it hit me, SUGAR! I wouldn't be surprised if a lightbulb actually went off over my head! I grabbed the Splenda from my desk and sprinkled a little bit, mixed it up, and had to stop myself from  eating the sauce like a soup! A perfect example of how one little ingredient pushed a good recipe to a delicious recipe. And now, behold...

Polenta and Veggie with Red Bell Pepper Sauce (Now Roast It All!)

      1c uncooked instant polenta
      1/2c grated Parmesan cheese, then 1/3c for topping polenta
      1 T Emril's Essence, or 1/2tsp of each of the components
      Cooking Spray
      2 cloves garlic, chopped
      1/4c Olive Oil
      1lb asparagus, ends trimmed
      1 med-large zucchini, 1/3" slices

          1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained
          1/3 chicken, or vegetable, broth
          1 large close garlic, chopped
          3 Tbsp fresh basil, chives, or parsley
          1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
          1/2 Tbsp brown sugar (this is an estimate as I haven't had the chance to try the recipe w brown sugar)

Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a med to large saucepan. Add polenta steadily, whisking to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, until thick-this took my instant polenta 1-2 min. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan and season with Essence or your seasoning choice.
Transfer polenta to pie pan prepped with cooking spray, smooth into an even layer and let cool 15 minutes.
Heat broiler. Coat veggies in olive oil. Arrange veggies in a single lay on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper, I added a little dash of Essence. Broil vegetables about 4-5 inches from heat until tender, 3 to 5 min on each side. Transfer to a platter and set aside.

Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Sprinkle polenta with remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, again I thought this was a good place for an Essence sprinkle...I literally can't stop using it when I start. Broil polenta in pie plate until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then cut polenta into triangles. Divide polenta among 4-6 plates. Layer veggies on top of polenta "pie piece" and drizzle with sauce. Serve any remaining sauce on the side.

Without Sauce
This recipe was fresh and delicious, but the polenta is also very filling. Every flavor from the veggies to the red pepper sauce comes through on it's own-but they all blend together very smoothly. And unless you missed this point...the sugar really brings it all together.