Saturday, April 30, 2011

everyone deserves a second chance

So, I really wasn't that thrilled with how last night's dinner came out, in case you couldn't tell.  By the time I got home from work today, amazed that Friday snuck up again so quickly, I was even less excited about tonight's dinner.

The plan was to make Chili and Polenta Casserole from Vegetarian Times: Fast and Easy, and although I've made it before, with some success, I just was not feeling it tonight.  In fact, when Mister asked me what I was making for dinner, my first impulse was to answer, "Reservations."

However, in this particular battle, FrugalMe won, so instead of doling out $12+ for a plate of pasta I know only cost $1 (tops) to make, I decided to get creative.  I issued myself the Basket Challenge.

my "basket"

I'm sure you can imagine we ended up with a mediterranean-themed dinner with those ingredients, but that was pretty much what I was going for anyway - that was what I had my tastebuds set on when I was searching urbanspoon for newly sprouted restaurants in Queen Village.  As I was gathering all of those items for their family photo, a plot started to hatch in my head.  So, hoping for a second chance to share with you a good recipe, as well as giving the canned tomatoes and beans, along with the polenta and nearly-freezer-burnt broccoli a second chance to be tasty, I made dinner.

Easy Vegetable Ragout on Mediterranean Polenta
4 servings

24 oz tube of prepared polenta
olive oil spray
Mediterranean sea salt blend (* I use McCormick brand)

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 Tbsp dried organic basil
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
14.5 oz can of Fire Roasted diced tomatoes
15 oz can kidney/cannellini beans
2 cups [frozen] broccoli florets

Open polenta over sink - a decent bit of water will squirt out when the plastic is pierced.  Unwrap and discard puckered ends.  Cut polenta into 12 equal rounds.  Spray a square skillet with olive oil and preheat on medium-high for at least one minute before adding polenta.  Cook polenta 12-15 minutes, flipping every 5 minutes and re-spraying.  After the first flip (@ 5 minutes), sprinkle Mediterranean salt blend over polenta, then spray with oil.  After the second flip (@10 minutes), sprinkle this side of the polenta with the salt blend, spray with a bit more oil.  You'll flip it once more for a few minutes to make sure the salt blend "rubs in," so to speak.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute a minute or two, taking care not to burn it.  Add undrained tomatoes, vinegar, tomato paste, and basil; stir to combine.  Increase heat and bring to a lively simmer, then reduce to medium low and allow to simmer gently 2-3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup vegetable broth and broccoli florets; stir to combine, then cover and allow to simmer about 5 minutes, stirring once.  Add another 1/4 cup of broth with the beans if the ragout seems too dry, stirring well to mix into the tomato mixture. 

Once all ragout ingredients are in the pot, cover and simmer a minute or two more while removing polenta from the skillet.  Place three polenta rounds on each plate, then top each plate with a quarter of the ragout.  Serve immediately, with mixed meze olives and a spicy red wine (for example, a pinotage or superTuscan) for a light, yet flavorful meal.

Enjoy!  We certainly did - the polenta was the most flavorful I've ever made it, owed completely to the salt enhancing the other spices/herbs in the blend and being complemented by the tomato sauce.  The balsamic vinegar was a total afterthought, but I'm so glad I included it - you can pick it out in the final product - it adds just the right amount of oomph.  The tomatoes were also delightful - the sweetness of the organic basil really enhanced the flavor of the roasted tomatoes and the crunch of broccoli, soaked with semi-sweet sauce was a good addition.  In the future, I'll use cannellini beans because they are far creamier than kidney beans and I think that will take this dish completely over the edge into hedonism territory.

As always, if you decide to give this a whirl, please let me know what you think!

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