Back in Thyme: Polenta with Artichokes and Bell Peppers

Polenta with Artichokes & Bell PepperFor Vegan MoFo, I’m doing a series called Back in Thyme, in which I travel to other periods of my life.  Today I’m setting the date to the year 1986…

Back in Thyme BannerWhen I was growing up, most of the meals in our house were Midwestern standards – casseroles, stews, chili, spaghetti…  So that’s why it came as a total surprise when my parents offered up a meal one night unlike anything my brothers and I had experienced in the past.

My parents had gone to a dinner party at the home of my dad’s coworker who was Italian.  There they were served polenta with tomato sauce.  But instead of serving it on individual plates or even family-style where people could ladle out the amount they’d like, the hosts poured the hot, creamy polenta onto their dinner table.  The polenta cooled as it spread, slightly hardening at the edges.  Then they topped the polenta with tomato sauce, handed the guests napkins and forks, and everyone dug into the section of polenta closest to them.  (I’ve also read about some parties where guests cut into the polenta in front of them in a big square shape, making their own polenta plate, and then adding the sauce or topping of their own choosing.)

Polenta with Artichokes & Bell PepperThis was long before I had learned about devouring a platter of Ethiopian wots with injera for a plate.  At that time the only communal foods I was used to eating were pizzas and nachos.  So when my mom told us that the dinner plates could stay in the cupboard that night, we were all perplexed.  (Wait a second…  Maybe that’s why she was so excited about that meal idea.)  Instead of pouring it across the table, she poured the hot polenta onto a big, clean wooden board and topped it with sauce.  We all grabbed our forks and scooped up the soft polenta, leaning over the table as we dug deeper and deeper into the platter.  There was a feeling of excitement in the air as we ate directly from the serving platter, something that would be frowned upon in most other occasions.

Although it was a new food to me then, polenta is something I make very regularly now.  (You can find it on my blog with uses for breakfast, fried with a marinara dipping sauce, grilled, topped with asparagus and chickpeas, and stacked with cashew cream and barbecue sauce-covered squash.)  My mom spent a long time making it from cornmeal, but I always use the De la Estancia brand, which is very finely ground and therefore cooks in less than five minutes.  (Plus, because it is so finely ground, the polenta is smooth like mashed potatoes.)

Tomatoes & olivesFor an equally easy topping, I made an artichoke and bell pepper topping using jarred marinated artichoke hearts.  (I used the Trader Joe’s brand, which are chopped, but feel free to use whichever marinated artichoke hearts you prefer.)  They are already covered in spices, and so I just sautéed them with lots of minced garlic, fresh-from-the-farmers-market bell pepper, and capers.  (For a heartier option, adding cannellini beans would be a great choice.)  To keep the hands-on quality for this romantic dinner for two, I served them with slices of juicy summer tomatoes and olives.  Just add forks.

Polenta with artichokes & bell pepperPolenta with Artichokes & Bell Peppers

Serves 2

Polenta

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or water + 1/2 vegetable bouillon cube)
  • 1/2 cup De la Estancia organic polenta*
  • 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon plain non-dairy milk (I use rice milk)
  • Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized soup pot, bring broth (or water + bouillon cube) to a simmer.  Lower heat and slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, stirring constantly.  Continue for about a minute, until the polenta separates from the side of the pan.  Add nutritional yeast flakes and non-dairy milk and stir a few seconds more, until it is combined.  Add a pinch of salt (be careful not to over-salt since the topping is quite salty).  Pour the polenta immediately onto a serving platter and top with Artichoke & Bell Pepper Topping.

*If you use a different brand of polenta, you will likely have a much longer cooking time and need more liquid.   Follow the directions on that package.

Artichoke & Bell Pepper Topping

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small to medium-sized red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 teaspoons capers, drained

In a large skillet, bring extra virgin olive oil to a medium heat.  Add minced garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.  Add bell pepper and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes more, until the bell pepper has softened.  Add the artichoke hearts and capers and continue to sauté a few minutes more, until warmed through.

21 thoughts on “Back in Thyme: Polenta with Artichokes and Bell Peppers

  1. Aaaaah our childhoods were so different! Even though my family heritage is Anglo-convict through and through, I grew up eating my mum’s famous antipasto platters of marinated artichokes, olives, roasted bell peppers, etc. So I was the weird kid eating capers by the spoonful when my friends wanted plain cheese pizza :P

    • It sounds like your mom and I would get along famously. I am a big fan of all of those things. I love the way you describe your family heritage – Anglo convict through and through. You crack me up.

  2. This will probably not come as a shock, but I’ve never had polenta before. I just saw another recipe for polenta cakes that required only a couple ingredients, so that caught my eye, but this looks just as simple. Next time I make a health food store run I might have to actually pick some up and experiment…

    • You should totally try it out! You could do it the long way using cornmeal, you could go the shorter route using my favorite finely ground polenta (above), or you could go the shortest route and buy it premade already in a tube!

  3. Your asparagus & chickpeas on polenta is crazyamazing but marinated artichoke hearts push my craving button too! Can I combine them all? It just might be polenta heaven.
    …wait…serve it on a giant round ceramic polenta plate…with pie-shaped depressions, one for each polenta sharer. Now that would be the best! :)

    • It seems to be a food that a lot of people forget. Most of the time I use it as a hot breakfast instead of something like oatmeal. And since the brand I use only takes five minutes, it’s even quicker than oatmeal!

    • When you use the finely ground polenta, it’s seriously a less than twenty minute meal! Plus, a lot of toppings are just pantry ingredients. It’s not quite as easy as the pre-made, but almost! It’s definitely worth trying sometime! :)

  4. Your polenta looks deliciously creamy and I love the sound of these toppings. I’m sure I got off on the wrong foot with polenta as I initially used a type that had more of a cornmeal texture. The fine polenta I’ve used recently was so much nicer so I’m going to keep experimenting and will keep your recipe in mind to try.

    • I agree, texture makes all the difference. When it comes to very coarse polenta or grits, I could take it or leave it. But when it’s smooth and velvety like mashed potatoes, I’m all in!

  5. I love polenta so much, and make it often — usually in the oven or slow cooker — but I’ve never seen it served as a communal meal. What an idea. Artichoke hearts are a great idea for a topping.

    • Yes, the communal aspect was quite a surprise to me too when I was a kid, but it adds a certain element of fun, that’s for sure. I can only imagine how surprised my parents must have been when their hosts started pouring their dinner all over the table!

    • Even for just two people, David and I seem to be endlessly doing dishes. I can totally see how a night off would have been very appealing to a mother of three! :)

  6. I’ve been looking for recipe that has polenta because polenta is affordable here in Spain (cheaper than pasta). Unfortunately the vegetable stock nearby has MSG, I wonder if it works with the miso paste I found at a health food shop. Artichokes are my favorite – looks delicious!

    • I’m not sure if it would work flavor-wise with miso paste or not, but you could give it a try. The broth doesn’t add loads of flavor anyway, it just rounds out the flavor a bit. You could make it with water, and there wouldn’t be an enormous taste difference.

  7. Pingback: Creamy Polenta with Garlicky Red Chard | The Sweet Life

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