Polenta is corn meal, Italian-style. It can be served soft and creamy or firm and crispy. I usually serve it soft and creamy with a little parmesan cheese – it makes a perfect pair with something like Beef Bourguignon because the juices from the stew play so nicely with the taste and texture of the polenta. You can buy corn meal for polenta in the bulk section of supermarkets or in a pre-packaged bag labeled “Polenta”, which is just bulk corn meal in a bag labeled “Polenta”! I buy it in the bag because it has the recipe I like on the back, and the bag itself is thick and sturdy for storage. Plus, it’s a good looking bag! By my count, that’s at least two solid practical reasons to buy the bag. The third reason is just the kind of thing that probably makes my husband a little crazy sometimes…
And what about that moist brown rice? Talk about a simple, healthy and satisfying side dish… and it cooks itself! Add 1 part brown rice (not fast cooking, not par-boiled, not from a box with seasonings… just whole grain brown rice out of a bag, and I’m sure you can buy this in bulk, too!) to 2 parts low sodium chicken broth. I happen to use a coffee cup to measure (so 1 coffee cup of brown rice and 2 coffee cups of broth), but you can use a measuring cup if you’re feeling conventional ; ). Cover and simmer over the lowest heat possible. It needs to gently simmer, not boil. This lets the rice absorb the broth, rather than the broth just boiling off and leaving crunchy uncooked rice behind.
Check the rice after about 20 minutes to be sure the broth hasn’t completely evaporated. If it’s drying up, add a little more broth. Basically, cook it for about 30 minutes total, checking to be sure it hasn’t dried up and tasting it towards the end for tenderness. Once it’s tender take it off the heat, making sure there is still a little bit of broth in the pan – this is what keeps it moist and it will absorb as the rice sits. Add a little salt to taste (we have to make up for the low sodium broth!) and stir. The texture is al dente, like properly cooked pasta, and the flavor is mildly nutty. Start the rice first and it will be done just when the rest of your meal is ready.
Just one more note about Polenta with Beef Bourguignon. My favorite Beef Bourguignon recipe is from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I was given this cookbook in 1991, when I got married, and later acquired The Silver Palate Cookbook by the same authors. I wanted to give my readers a link to this Beef Bourguignon recipe, but there doesn’t seem to be one available. In “Googling” for the recipe, I came across the news that Sheila Lukins, one of the authors, had passed away last summer. I was surprised and wanted to mention it here as my small tribute to someone I never met but from whom I learned to cook many fine meals.
Cook a great meal tonight for someone you love!