Sometimes it seems like almost any pasta dish can be transformed into a polenta one—and in the process, made twice as luxurious. There's something about polenta that's decidedly upmarket, despite the fact that it costs next to nothing to make. Leave it to the Italians, having done it once already with risotto, the only rice that fetches double-digit prices in a fine restaurant. Polenta is a quick, cheap, rather easy way to up the ante for dinner.
Polenta's richness pairs best with vegetables; one of my favorite combinations is to serve it next to a plate of spinach sauteed with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. I pulled this 10-year-old recipe from the Chicago Sun-Times while searching for what to do with broccoli. I also happened to be on a kick with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes, the beginning to so many delicious meals—and this one is no exception. The polenta is given a richer flavor by using vegetable stock for the cooking liquid, but water would work just as well.
Polenta with Broccoli and Tomato
Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, then turn down to a simmer. Add the cornmeal in a slow stream, whisking constantly, continuing to whisk after it is all added for about 5 minutes. Allow to cook gently while the vegetables are prepared.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broccoli, toss with the oil, then add the water and cover to steam until tender. Uncover, add the tomatoes, and cook until liquid evaporates, a few minutes more. Season to taste.
Season the polenta to taste and add the cheese and butter. Pour onto plates and top with the vegetables. Serve with Parmesan cheese for sprinkling.