Warm, creamy squares of polenta are the Italian answer to our favorite Southern grits. Spiked with fresh rosemary and crumbled feta cheese and topped with garlicky, just-wilted spinach, roasted red peppers and toasty pine nuts, we can’t help but swoon over this earthy peasant fare of the Mediterranean.
Envision a cozy supper and you stir a crock of slow-simmering grains, rich with butter. A bit of rustic elegance on the cheap and oh-so-versatile, polenta shines as do-ahead apps, hearty layered casseroles or covert nibbles shared late at night. To taste is to fall in love, our fickle hearts weary of all those noodles and yesterday’s mashed potatoes.
Rosemary and Feta Polenta with Spinach, Red Peppers and Pine Nuts
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups polenta
Coarse salt, freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons butter
10 ounces cubed or crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more, to taste
Minced fresh garlic, to taste
12 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
4 whole roasted red peppers, cut into 1/4 -inch strips
Prepared marinara, warmed, to serve
Using a deep pan, bring 6 cups salted water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add polenta gradually, stirring with a long spoon. (Have a spatter screen handy to shield you from any pops and bubbles.) Season with salt, pepper and rosemary; cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture is very thick. Stir in butter and feta and pour into a 13 x 9 casserole coated with cooking spray or olive oil. Using the back of a wooden spoon, spread the polenta in an even layer and set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-heat heat and the toast pine nuts until fragrant and golden brown, stirring or shaking pan to evenly toast. Remove from pan and reserve.
In the same pan, add olive oil. When oil is fragrant and shimmering, add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add spinach in batches, stirring, until all spinach is just wilted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in red pepper strips.
Once cooled, carefully invert the polenta onto a clean cutting board and cut into squares.
To serve, ladle warm marinara onto plates, top with polenta squares and spinach. Garnish with pine nuts and serve warm.
Diva Confession: It’s tempting to buy prepared polenta in those handy-dandy refrigerated tubes. Easy? You bet, but you’re missing out if you haven’t tried making polenta from scratch. Store-bought polenta logs can be rubbery or too firm, not nearly as dreamy-creamy as our handcrafted variety. Make a batch one Sunday afternoon and refrigerate for meals during the week. Keep it simple and top with marinara for quick and easy comfort food, or use as a base for stewed lamb or beef. Also delish grilled with grilled veggies or fish.