Who flipped the switch? After weeks of height-of-summer salads and cookies suddenly here we are, plunged into nights when you need a jacket. I grilled a dozen ears of corn last Thursday, alone at home, nursing a scotch on our deck in the dark, except when I raised the lid of our grill to turn the ears and and propel the toasty aroma of charred husks and corn silk into the neighborhood. See! See! Still here! I felt like a man sailing north, ignoring the portents of ice in the water and cries from the shore: Turn back! The passage will close! I want to squeeze as much grilled corn and fresh tomatoes out of the season as I can, even as their days drop faster than pages from the calendar in Citizen Kane. In case you haven’t noticed, winter squashes have appeared in the farmers market. Hefty green and orange scouts from another season. Squash–we call it autumn squash, but all of us know it’s winter squash–herald of the coming chill. Embrace the change. Polenta with Autumn Squash and Pomegranate Molasses will get you through the dark parts.
This recipe is one of those rare combinations–corn-squash-pomegranate–in which ingredients from different ends of the earth turn out to taste like they grew up playing stickball together. Lamb and rosemary, you understand why that works. But pomegranate and corn, or squash? What would colonial luminaries like William Penn and Thomas Jefferson, who speculated that Native Americans were descended from the lost tribes of Israel, have made of this? More evidence? History has its mysteries.
The most demanding aspect of this recipe is shaving the squash. We used red kuri squash, but butternut (the squash that looks like it belongs on the The Simpsons) might be easier because of its shape. You need a peeler with a sharp blade–buy a new one if you have to; it’s not like they cost the earth. Or a mandoline. We tried both. Don’t even think about shaving if you have carpal tunnel. Shaving produces the most delicate curls; the mandoline is easier. I’d probably go with the mandoline; you know which one Jody would choose. Enjoy Ken
Note: I wrote about the dark history of polenta in our previous polenta-centric post. Please excuse the dodgy typefaces–I wrote it before we upgraded to this spacious format and conversion of old posts has not been without its travails.
Polenta with Autumn Squash and Pomegranate Molasses
- Kosher salt
- 1½ cups coarsely ground cornmeal
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small autumn squash, no more than a pound, or part of a larger squash. You want to end up with 8 ounces of squash shavings.
- 1 red pepper
- 2 scallions
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
- ¼ cup each fresh mint and basil leaves (we’re on a roll)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan, bring 7 cups salted water to a boil over high heat. Gradually whisk the cornmeal into the boiling water. Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until very thick and shiny, about 40 minutes. Regulate the heat as necessary so the mixture doesn’t boil over. Once the surface starts resembling a liquid lava surface with little fumaroles belching steam, it’s probably done. It shouldn’t be too thick to stir. Add more water, if necessary.
- When the polenta is done, season with pepper and then stir in half the Parmesan cheese, all the the butter, and the thyme. Taste and season with salt if necessary
- Peel the squash, remove the seeds and begin shaving slices from it as thin as possible using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline. You should have about 8 ounces of shavings.
- Peel the pepper (this is optional) and cut into ¼-inch slices. Trim the roots off the scallions and thinly slice the white and green parts on the diagonal.
- Preheat the broiler and set the top rack 8 inches below the flame.
- Smear an 18″ x 13″ shallow-sided baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread the polenta out into the pan. Top with slices of pancetta. Run the pan under the broiler and cook until the pancetta starts to crisp, about 4 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the shaved squash, sliced pepper, and scallions with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread evenly over the polenta.
- Return the pan to the broiler and cook 4 minutes or until the vegetables start to crisp and brown.
- Cut the mint and basil into a chiffonade.
- Top the polenta with the remaining cheese, the chiffonade of mint and basil, and the thyme, then drizzle with pomegranate molasses and the last tablespoon of olive oil.
Before I made this recipe, I roasted the shaved squash without the other ingredients. I wanted to be sure it worked. I loved it and enthusiastically offered a piece to Ken. He tasted it, made a questioning face, and said, “Kind of rich, isn’t it? What’s it for? ”
Kind of rich??!! He was supposed to say, Delicious!
After all these years, I still want positive feedback right out of the gate. “It’s going with polenta,” I said, not quite snapping at him. “With pancetta, peppers and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.”
“Okay. As long as there’s more than just squash on the plate.” He paused, taking in my less than thrilled expression. “You know, you’re lucky you get an unfiltered response from me.”
Of course, he was right. But one of these days…
That looks absolutely amazing. Polenta is the one and only thing that I can’t get along with but definitely going to give this a try – stunning colours!
Give it another try. It’s definitely a winter staple in our house (I keep telling myself it’s marginally healthier than mashed potatoes). It really is funny to look at, just pay attention to the broiling–if you look away… Thanks for liking the pics. Ken
Reblogged this on Indian Born Confused Gourmet and commented:
this is a must try!
Thanks–maybe it will lead to a little less confusion. :-) Ken
Wonderful. I have never made polenta before, isn’t that awful! But i do grow butternut, I have the molasses) and i love the idea of shaving the butternut for this. BEAUTIFUL colourful images too..Thank you.. c
Hi, Cecilia–How are things on the farm? Making polenta scares some folks–“How will I know when it’s done??!!” You’ll figure it out. What a treat, eating it with your own squashes. Glad you enjoyed the pics. Ken
i have eaten it though, in london i think, so i hope i can work it out..
Beautiful photos! Never been a fan of polenta but looks like things will change with this recipe :)
“…never been a fan…” Let’s hope this changes things. There are so many good things to do with polenta. We have a recipe similar to this with shaved asparagus that’s a wonderful spring/summer dish. Wild mushroom ragu in the winter! Great stuff. Thanks for compliment. Ken
I am very much a disaster chef. But I love to try out anyways… and now that spring is here in Sydney, I will definitely try the one with asparagus you mentioned.
“even as their days drop faster than the pages of the calendar in Citizen Kane.” Great line.
Got a winter squash and red pepper in yesterday’s CSA and I can get the mint and basil from the garden at school. Will report back on how it tastes minus the pancetta.
Try it with turkey bacon. :-) Sounds like you’re all set. Ken
wow. this is a work of art. those colors! I’ve never thought to cook vegetables like these under the broiler. Fascinating. And did you mean mint and thyme? I own pomegranate molasses, but have never done anything but add it to marinades. Can’t wait to try this.
No. The mint and basil are sliced into a chiffonade. I should have been clearer about the sprinkling in the last step – the chiffonade (mint and basil) + the thyme leaves are sprinkled over the top. Thanks for catching it. Ken
Careful. Pomegranate molasses, like dukkah and preserved lemons, has a way of becoming your new best friend. :-) Ken
good to know!!!
Looks like a work of art – culinary art. I love polenta when it starts getting chilly and often top with all manner of roasted veg, herbs and cheese. Love the drizzle of pomegranate molasses that seems to take this in another direction entirely. Beautiful
Thank you, Kellie. PM is a killer secret ingredient–it snaps everything else into focus. Ken
It certainly does! I love it. I usually have at least two bottles kicking around so I can make sure I don’t run out. :-)
What a gorgeous and colorful recipe. I love the combination of seasons and everything you wrote. I feel the same way. I think you and I are echoing the same sentiments in our posts. I really like this dish. I like the image of sitting with a scotch sailing North by the grill. That’s my kind of evening. Lovely photos as always, very Jackson Pollack. I can’t wait to try my hand at this one!
Thanks, Amanda. You’ll be amused to know that during this morning’s shooting session I set my soft box on fire–it was touching one of the halogen light bulbs in our hood. Second time. Now my softbox has two holes near the corner. Danger kitchen with Jody Adams! Ken
LMAO be careful! I’m glad the whole thing didn’t burn, but that’s my fear. I hold up my halogen light with a cardboard parchment paper box so it’s just a matter of time before the FDNY rolls in.
Followed by some guy in big boots asking loudly, “You were doing WHAT??!!” Ken
That is a very attractive pizza! very nice :)
Thanks. :-) Ken
would you say that the squash was cooked thoroughly? I can only eat squash once it’s cooked as it destroys the protein I am allergic to. Weird, I know. but I like squash and am making pizzas ATM and that was one of my choices based on aesthetics (it’s a competition)
Hmmm…. I’m not sure if it would qualify as cooked thoroughly, not even that I’d commit to saying that all of particular protein were denatured. It’s not cooked in the way that, say, slow-roasted squash is. Also, you do realize this isn’t a pizza, right? All those vegetables are on a bed of polenta. Ken
This looks delish and will lessen the sting of the hastening fall!! Love polenta but never cooked it, love all squashes and love pomegranate and molasses, so this should be a slam dunk, thanks, very excited!!
Thanks, Jenn. Please forgive me if you already know this, but I noticed you wrote “pomegranate AND molasses.” Just to be sure we’re on the same page, I’m talking about pomegranate molasses, not pomegranates and molasses. Pomegranate molasses tastes quite different from regular molasses and their use is quite different as well. See my responses to Ayako and TinyWhiteCottage. Ken
yes, i did realize that after my first comment. I just have pizza on the brain. We are having a city wide pizza week next week and to kick it off a bunch of us food bloggers are getting pizza creative. We were given 3 ingredients to use…I got anchovies, fire roasted tomatoes, and chestnut puree.
Whoa, chestnut puree??!! SWEET chestnut puree? Keep me post – I’m really curious to learn how you worked this out. Good luck. Ken
Me encanta la polenta acompañada de deliciosas salsas o guarniciones como ésta.
También sola con toneladas de queso!
Thank you. I’m absolutely with you on the “tons of cheese”. :-) Ken
This recipe looks great, and those pictures are wonderful! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Brian. Nice way to step into fall food. Ken
That is a gorgeous dish. Aptly named, too. (Of course.) I’m feeling a bit like the country cousin here, as my first question is Where do you get pomegranate molasses? And I can see from the comments that everybody else already has some in their pantry.
Thanks, Donna. Pomegranate molasses is widely available (I recently saw some in a Star Market near us), but you can readily find it at store that stock Middle Eastern specialties. Whole Foods almost certainly carries it. If none of those work there are a million places that sell it online–just Google it. Ken
There is a great Middle Eastern grocery nearby. I will definitely have to get back there. Sounds so good.
Lovely! The colours and flavours of this dish are calling my name! Perfect for a cool fall day!
Thanks, Julianna. You’ve pretty much nailed it. I think we’re in for an extended period of squash, so best to go with the flow in as tasty a way as possible. Ken
Pomegranate molasses definitely goes well with corn and squash and is certainly a central ingredient in Israeli and Middle Eastern cooking. Hot, bubbly polenta with salty meat and cheese… the ultimate unifier. :-)
Thank you, Shanna. I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. Ken
Looks so yum & molasses is such an unknown ingredient for us!
Ayako! How nice to hear from you. Molasses and pomegranate molasses are two very different things. Molasses is made from cane sugar and has a pronounced “burnt” flavor. You don’t want to use it in this recipe. You use it as a sweetener in hot cereal or in quick breads. Pomegranate molasses, in contrast, is a reduction of pomegranate juice with a striking dark red color and an intense sweet-tart flavor that make it an ideal counterpoint for savory food. It’s great on eggplant, on chicken, and on seafood with robust flavor, like bluefish or mackerel. It also works as a pick-me-up condiment in starchy food like squash or root vegetables (e.g. roasted carrots). It’s easy to find online. Ken
Ohhhhhh. Things I have no idea about…!! Thank you for the info. :)
Wow. What a beautiful palette of natural, earthy fall colors. I particularly like the shaved squash. Would never have thought to shave it! Every time I visit The Garum Factory I am enriched with culinary expertise. Thank you Jody! :) I just bought pomegranate molasses and have yet to use it. I’m picking up a butternut squash today and making your recipe. Oh, and I better not forget the pancetta!
You just bought pomegranate molasses? You’re in for a treat–see my reply to Ayako above. Also, it’s a big ingredient in Ottolenghi’s books, because it’s a big ingredient in various Middle Eastern cuisines, especially Iranian cooking. There’s a famous Iranian dish called Fesenjan that basically duck with a very tart walnut sauce (muhammara) made with pomegranate molasses that’s delicious. You might check out our post from a couple of years back – Roast Chicken with Muhammara (http://wp.me/p1t5xh-Xf) for a similar approach. Ken
Ha, Jody, sounds like my husband! (Ken, where’s your sense of self-preservation?) The dish looks beautiful – pomegranate molasses works with some surprising things, that balance of sweet and tart is so good. Another barnstormer, the pair of you.
Thanks, Linda. We do have our individual tastes… and they aren’t always confluent. Most of the time the differences are amusing. Most of the time. Ken
Thanks, Ken! I would have totally screwed that up…appreciate the clarification!
Only once. :-) Ken
Delicious and beautiful.
Thanks. Fun to eat too. :-) Ken
Here to report that this dish, minus the pancetta, is fantastic. The only other difference was subbing in sweet onion that I soaked in cold water to really take the bite off instead of the scallions. And that was only because I had every single other item the recipe called for in my pantry, fridge, CSA and garden and it seemed silly to go to the market for one little thing. The final dish was also breathtakingly beautiful. We stood around and snapped a few photos before we dug in. Just a remarkable dish. Thank you for the terrific recipe.
Molly, that’s terrific! I’m glad it worked for you–and I hope it tasted as good as it looked. :-) Ken
Gorgeous, and mouth-watering! any idea where we can get pomegranate molasses in Paris?
I’m sure it’s pretty easy to get–any “Chez l’Arab” with Lebanese products ought to carry it. It’s a Lebanese staple. Sorry I can’t be more specific. Our daughter is moving there for 5 months on Friday – I’ll have her keep an eye out. Ken
Mmm, looks delicious. I’ll have to try this, but I might take the lazy and less attractive approach and not shave the squash (maybe cook it separately so that it still cooks correctly). Hopefully it will turn out that way.
We made two batches of polenta (just in case). I’ve been eating the second (the first is gone) with roasted crescents of kuri squash. Works fine. Go for it. Ken
Thanks! It’s good to know it’s also good with larger chunks. It sounds like such a great meal for the end of summer and beginning of fall.
Wow, such a beauty of a recipe. Would never think to peel a squash into ribbons to enable quick cooking….so clever.
Hi, Steve–Works with asparagus too. My wife, the clever one in the family. Ken
The switch is flipping here, too, I fear. So let’s revel in the beautiful colors as long as we can. Soon it will be nothing but Whole Foods broccolini and hydroponic watercress for months on end… Such a beautiful dish! And a good thing to remember as my farm share winter squashes stack up on the counter.
Thanks, Michelle. It is a pretty dish, but since we’re about flavor first and appearance (a close) second, I can assert that it also tastes good, even the next day. Ideal prelude to a pecan tart or pie. :-) Ken
Delicious looking recipe. I’ve never made polenta but I might have to give it a try. I’ll just need to leave out the prosciutto when I try it.
If you’re vegetarian, it will do fine without it. Polenta is a treat. Many people find it bland, but I think with some butter and cheese it’s just incredibly good… and a great match with red wine. Ken
Mmmmmh – I still feel the taste . . . Thanks for sharing the recipe ♥ Birgit ♥
Glad you enjoyed it. Ken
Herrlich, zum “Reinlegen”. . .