Monday, October 14, 2013

Polenta with Winter Squash and Arugula

Seven years ago I found myself looking for some change in my life. I was happy with my life in Los Angeles, working in film and doing my thing.  It just felt like something was missing.  That year, for my birthday my mother gave me "This Crazy Vegan Life," by Christina Pirello and I read it in ONE night! As I vegetarian I always said the same thing, "I could never give up cheese! I love it too much!"  Thanks to the lovely Christina, I learned that I didn't love cheese and cheese certainly didn't love me!  Not only was I addicted to cheese (thanks to the chemical reactions cheese induces in the brain) and not only was it loaded with cancer causing casein, I felt my life would be bland without pizza, lasagna, and all things cheesy!  If you are a regular reader, then you know that this is far from reality.  I felt that something was missing and that something was veganism.  My body and mind were begging to make the final leap from vegetarian to vegan.  From cheese to tofu ricotta lasagna, Daiya, creamy raw parmesan!  Cutting cheese from my life left a giant void.  That's right!  A huge void ready to be filled with deliciousness like this heavenly concoction: Polenta with Winter Squash and Arugula and, of course, it is topped with arugula pesto, caramelized onions, and creamy raw parmesan!  There are a few layers that go into the making of this recipe but each one if not only quick but adds fantastic flavor dimension.  As "Game of Thrones" likes to say, winter is coming and nights are about to get cold.  This dish is perfect for a night at home with the fire roaring and a glass of red.  An episode of "Game of Thrones" would only make it better.  Give this dish to any non vegan and they are guaranteed to love it!  Here we go, one recipe for polenta heaven:
Polenta with Winter Squash and Arugula
Polenta Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups winter squash, cooked, mashed*
1 cup polenta (from bulk bins not the pre-cooked kind)
2 cups arugula, stems removed**
1 medium onion, diced small
3 cups vegetable broth
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil, more if needed
1/2 cup unflavored almond milk
1 tsp. sea salt (optional if your broth is salt free)
1/4 tsp. pepper
*You can use any type of winter squash such as butternut, acorn, Japanese pumpkin, etc. To cook the squash, just cut the squash in half.  Remove seeds and outer skin then cut into cubes.  Toss with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes.
** If you don't like arugula, check out my recipe for Herbed Polenta with Butternut Squash and Sautéed Veggies.
Arugula Pesto Ingredients:
2 cups arugula, packed, stems removed
1/2 medium or 1 small zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 garlic clove, crushed (to release the oils)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Caramelized Onions Ingredients:
1 large sweet white onion, sliced thinly in half crescents
Polenta Method:  In a sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and once warm add the onions.  Cook over medium heat until onions soften.  About 5 minutes.  Add the cooked squash and mix well.  Cook for an additional 2 minutes. In a medium sized saucepan, bring 3 cups of broth to boil.  In an even swirling pattern, add the polenta and stir frequently until it becomes creamy.  Add the squash and onion mixture. Stir well.  Add the almond milk.  Keep stirring.  Add the arugula and stir until it is wilted.  Pour into an oven safe dish and allow to cool.  This will allow the polenta to firm up and will make plating very easy and pretty.
Arugula Pesto Method:  Add everything but the olive oil to a food processor and process to small pieces.  While the processor is running, add the olive oil.  Process until smooth and creamy.
Caramelized Onions Method:  In a medium sauté pan, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the onions once the pan and oil have warmed.  Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat then turn the heat down to medium-low.  Stir occasionally and cook for about 40 minutes.  Don't rush the caramelizing process and don't stir too often.  Allow the onions to sit on the heat and really develop in flavor.  When you do stir, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and reincorporate any caramelising that has stuck.  When the onions are sweet and brown, they are finished.  The picture below is the mid way point (about 20 minutes of cooking).

To plate:
Once the polenta has cooled and firmed, pop it into the oven at 350°F for about ten minutes to warm it up.  Remove from oven and set on a heat safe surface.  Take a small bowl and spoon the polenta into the bowl and pack it firmly.  Take your plate and turn it upside over the bowl.  Flip and tap the bottom of the bowl to release the molded polenta.  If the polenta does not release, run a butter knife around the inside rim to loosen it.  Once plated, add a layer of fresh pesto, then a few pieces of arugula, some caramelized onions, a dollop of raw parmesan and a few chives.  There you have it!  Heavenly polenta on plate!  Enjoy and remember that we made enough for seconds :)

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