Polenta with Asparagus, Peas and Mint
Ahhh, spring. The sun is shining, the birds are singing. Oh, wait … it’s snowing. One minute it’s sunny and you can get away with a light coat, or maybe, just maybe, no coat at all. Next thing you know, it’s freezing again, reminding you it’s just not over till it’s over. If spring has you dreaming of all that’s green, and oh so eager to embrace the verdant veggies that are sprouting up at all the markets, I hear you. I can’t wait to cook all things spring, and I bet you can’t wait, too.
Banish the winter blues and add some springtime freshness to tonight’s dinner with this Polenta with Asparagus, Peas and Mint. The tender, fresh asparagus and vibrant green peas snuggled with a bed of warm polenta works so well in this transitional time. It helps bridge the gap between winter and spring, giving you a bite of new, fresh flavor plus something warm and soothing at the same time. A buttery, vegetable-topped polenta imbued with the bright hues of springtime, it’s a welcome burst of color sure to brighten everyone’s spirits.
This is a perfect plant-based main (use plant-based butter and cheese) or a sumptuous side, and it’s especially nice if you have vegan guests. You can prepare your polenta either stovetop or oven. I like to cook polenta in the oven. It’s very hands off and there is no risk of getting burned, like there is with the stovetop method. If you chose the stovetop method, do be careful. The polenta becomes very hot and bubbly as it cooks and the bubbles can burst, scalding you with the molten mixture as you stir. I was excited to find fresh peas for this at the market, but I love that you can use frozen ones here, too.
Asparagus tastes best if it’s cooked the day you buy it, but it will store for 3 or 4 days if you treat it like cut flowers. Trim the bottoms first, then stand the spears up in a glass or jar with about an inch of water in the bottom and refrigerate. Before cooking, I like to cut and discard about one half inch from the very woody portion before I snap off the bottom. I use these portions to make a zero waste Asparagus Ends Soup. For more on this and other zero waste recipes go to blogs.columbian.com/home-made.
Make this for dinner. Plan it for Easter. Lean in to all things green! But do bring a sweater.
Polenta with Asparagus, Peas and Mint
- 1 1/2 cups polenta, coarse-grind cornmeal or corn grits*
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more as needed
- 4 to 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, or more to taste, plus shaved Parmesan for serving
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 2 large or 4 small shallots (or 1 small red onion), thinly sliced
- 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
- 2 Tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine
- 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh peas (no need to thaw frozen peas first)
- 1/3 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 cup torn mint leaves, or use parsley, cilantro or a combination of any soft herbs
- freshly ground black pepper
To cook polenta on stovetop: Combine 4 1/2 cups water, polenta and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium pot over high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how finely the polenta is ground (coarse-ground polenta takes longer).
To cook polenta in oven: Heat oven to 350º F. In a medium Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot over high heat, bring 4 1/2 cups water, polenta and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to thicken slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Bake 20 minutes, then stir. If polenta looks dry, add another 1/2 cup water. Cover pot, and continue to bake 20 to 30 minutes more. When polenta is thick and creamy, stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons butter (to taste) and the Parmesan. Taste and add more Parmesan and salt, if needed.
As polenta cooks, prepare the vegetables: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add shallots and sauté until tender and golden, about 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook another minute or two, until fragrant and very lightly golden in spots. Add vermouth and cook until alcohol evaporates, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in asparagus and peas, and cook until vegetables are glossy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add stock, remaining 2 tablespoons butter and a large pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender and sauce thickens slightly, 2 to 8 minutes. Stir in mint. Taste and add more salt, if needed. To serve, spoon polenta into bowls, top with vegetables and their sauce. Finish with a generous grind of fresh pepper and shaved Parmesan.
*If using instant polenta, cook it according to package directions, then stir in butter and Parmesan.
-recipe by Melissa Clark