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…