Everyone has those dishes that taste like home. For me, it’s a big bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce, doused with parmesan cheese. Another favorite is a pile of mashed potatoes with a deep hole in the middle filled with brown gravy. (If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll top that with corn – a mini shepherd’s pie.
I ate these dishes a lot as a kid, and they have become my comfort foods: easy to make, warming from the inside out, and nostalgic. As an adult, I’ve grown accustomed to some new comfort foods: scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, miso soup with tofu and roasted bok choy, and shakshuka with crusty, buttered bread. They’re my new (and healthier) comfort foods.
The newest of my comfort foods is polenta. Polenta is mashed-potato-esque, made from cornmeal and water. For a long time, polenta was a black box to me. We never ate it growing up, so I didn’t have much exposure. I first learned of it through my college roommate – she made it a few times from the tubes you can but at the grocery store. Until this year I hadn’t even tried it. Change is hard.
Now that I know how easy it is to make, it’s a regular part of my dinner line up. This time of year, when the air is getting colder, it’s an extremely warming, feel-good meal. It’s also very inexpensive: a 24-ounce bag of cornmeal cost me less than $2 at the grocery store. As a starch it’s high in calories, so go easy on it as you’re dishing it up (if you can). It’s very versatile and I like to serve it with sautéed vegetables, as in this recipe.
This dish comes together very quickly, but requires that you pay attention to three pots at once. To make it easier to read, I separated the directions for each ingredient. If you start the mushrooms first, then the chard, and end with the polenta, they should all finish around the same time for a delicious meal in less than 20 minutes.
Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms
Yield: 2 servings. Per Serving: $2.43, 364 calories, 12g fat, 87g carbs, 11g protein.
Mushrooms: Wipe 1 container (8 ounces) of baby portobella mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel and slice into ¼ inch pieces. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until brown.
Chard: Cut 2 garlic cloves in half and place in a cold sauté pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put on low heat and cook slowly until the garlic turns slightly brown, then remove the garlic. Clean and chop 1 bunch green chard and add to the garlic oil with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss the chard occasionally over medium heat until wilted.
Polenta: Bring 1 ¼ cup water to boil in a small sauce pan. Turn to low heat and whisk in ½ cup fine yellow cornmeal, adding slowly. Add ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon cheddar cheese. If the polenta becomes too thick, add more water. Cook for about 5 minutes on very low heat, stirring frequently.