rice and grains, vegetarian

Parmesan Polenta Cakes with Spicy Eggplant Ragout

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I watch a lot of Food Network and Cooking Channel programming and over the years I’ve heard the term “polenta” kicked around pretty often on certain shows.  It’s always looked good and sounded tempting, but until really recently I had never tried it.  I mean really, really recently… like, yesterday!  Well, now that I have Polenta 101 under my belt, I can tell you that all the fuss about it on cable is well-deserved.  It is crazy easy to make, it’s absolutely delicious and even potentially addicting. 

Before I put this dish together, I spent quite a bit of time watching online cooking tutorials and reviewing recipes online and I found out that there are tons of variations out there on how to cook polenta.  After all that research, I knew I wanted a dish with some cute, sophisticated-looking polenta cakes, not just a sort of saucy mush in a bowl!  I also knew that preparing a cornmeal porridge with broth sounded way more appealing than making it with water and milk.  I’ve made a batch or two of cornbread from scratch and cornmeal, on it’s own, is one of the blandest substances known to man…lots of seasoning is required to make it into something tasty.

This spicy eggplant ragout is something I made a while back, but we ate it with spicy Italian sausage mixed in over hot, buttered rice. Since this is a Meatless Monday post, I developed the heat by adding a pinch of crushed red pepper to the sauce instead of spicy sausage. I was initially going to write about parmesan polenta cakes with homemade marinara sauce. But, after thinking it over, pairing these little savory cakes with a warm, hearty eggplant topping seemed like an even better dinner idea!

The polenta will need to be prepared first and given time to cool and firm up so that you can cut out the cakes.  This is a two-step recipe.  

Parmesan Polenta Cakes

  • 1 package (32 oz) vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup ground, yellow corn meal (I used Pioneer brand)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Lightly grease a 9×9 pan with cooking spray, set it on a cooling rack and set aside.

2. Heat 5 cups of vegetable broth to a rolling boil.  Season with the salt and pepper.

3. While stirring briskly with a whisk, add in the cup of cornmeal to the broth. The rapid stirring will help to break down lumps.  

4. Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Stirring the polenta every couple of minutes, allow it to simmer until it is smooth and thick. This should take about 20-30 minutes. (when you taste the polenta, there should not be any gritty particles at all.  The texture should be very smooth.  If there is any grittiness, add a bit more broth and keep simmering until it’s as smooth like warm pudding)

5.  Fold in the grated cheese and then pour the polenta into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly.  Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.  It will set and be very firm.  Now, start on your eggplant ragout.  

Spicy Eggplant Ragout

  • 1 large eggplant or 2 small ones, (2 lbs).
  • a few teaspoons of salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1. First you have to sweat the eggplant with salt.  This process denatures certain enzymes in it that can make it bitter as it cooks.  Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.  Rinse the eggplant.  Discarding the top and the bottom, slice it into 1 inch rounds. Generously salt each side of the eggplant slices and place on the baking sheet.  Allow them to sit for at least 15 – 20 minutes. You’ll notice the beads of moisture rise up to the top of each slice.  Wipe the moisture and any extra salt off the slices.  

2. Cut the eggplant into 1 inch chunks.

3. Warm the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and the eggplant chunks. Toss in the oil and cook until the eggplant starts to become tender, about 9 minutes.  

4.  Add in the garlic & red pepper flakes.  Cook 2 minutes.  Add in the can of crushed tomatoes, salt and broth.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat; set aside. 

5.  Now, using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut the cooled polenta into rounds.

6. Heat a small skillet.  Spray the skillet with non-stick cooking spray and lightly brown each side of the polenta cakes.  Move them to serving plates. 

7. Top the polenta cakes with eggplant ragout.  Sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese and enjoy!  

‘Twas delicious!

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