As winter begins to recede and spring slowly emerges, thought I’d give one last hoorah to the winter squash. Am so grateful to the winter squash, such as butternut, kabocha, delicata, hubbard, Queensland Blue, kuri, etc. Winter squash, one of the few vegetables to withstand the cold temperatures and to consistently make its presence felt throughout even the coldest of the winter months. By this time of the year, I’ve eaten my fair share of winter squash (in sweet and savory dishes alike). But, there’s always room for one (or two) more.

Polenta or “Italian grits”, a humble dish with humble beginnings (formerly thought of as peasant food); it’s now as ubiquitous as pasta. Polenta is made from corn meal (preferably GMO-free). You can find it in different grinds, coarse or fine; the more finely ground, the softer and creamier your polenta will be. I personally like a smoother polenta, but that’s entirely up to you. It doesn’t get much more basic than this: polenta, butternut squash, stock, sage, a little Parmesan cheese, butter, and olive oil. You begin with the stock and whisk in the polenta, continually stirring, adding more stock, sage, cheese, salt and pepper as needed (and finally the squash puree), to slowly build up the flavors, until it reaches just the right creamy, smooth consistency. I topped the polenta with some cremini and shiitake mushrooms (sauteed in a little butter and olive oil), but you can change it up depending on your likes; for instance, you could top with braised meats or grilled shrimp.

In addition to serving as a smooth and creamy porridge, you can chill the polenta in the refrigerator for a few hours and then make polenta “fries”, or you can cut into cubes and make “croutons” to garnish a mixed green salad. It’s really very versatile, which speaks volumes to its appeal.

Am already thinking ahead to a summer version (minus the squash) topped with a fresh salsa of heirloom tomatoes.

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Winter Squash Polenta

3 pounds butternut (or other varietal) squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups *polenta
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 3/4 cups water plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

*You can also use instant polenta, which will be done in a fraction of the amount of time.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the squash, cut side up, in large a roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Sprinkle with sage, salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake until the squash is fork tender, about 1hour. Cool slightly. Scoop the squash into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Combine the broth, water and salt in heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, adding more water as needed, until the mixture is very thick and creamy, stirring often, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the fresh sage and squash puree.

Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Herbed Polenta “Fries”

Extra virgin olive oil
3 1/4 cups cold water
1 cup *polenta
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

 *You can also use instant polenta.

Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with oil.

Combine the water, polenta, herbs, and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until polenta begins to pull away from side of pan, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cheese and butter until incorporated, then transfer the polenta to the baking dish, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula. Chill, uncovered, until set, about 45 minutes.

Just needs a little dipping sauce, perhaps some homemade spicy tomato sauce or garlic aioli



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