Griddled or fried, polenta is a campout favorite

Campout cuisine constituted my most recent column for the weekly food section.

While the piece focused on fried rice, I also gave tips for preparing foods ahead of time that can be laid away in the freezer and transported frozen to a campsite. Largely because of its sturdiness and relevance at any meal, polenta is one of my camping staples.

Made ahead, cooled and cut into squares, polenta can be griddled or fried for a breakfast alternative to toast or pancakes with eggs and bacon. We’ve also served it to rave reviews with good-quality Italian sausages, sautéed summer vegetables and smoked tomato chutney. All that comes together on a single portable griddle, touted in my column.

This recipe is very close in concept and would translate beautifully in an outdoor kitchen. The mélange of kale, tomatoes and legumes echoes one of my favorite recipes, calling for chard, kale or collard greens sautéed in bacon fat and combined with diced tomatoes and white beans. It’s been a favorite in cooking classes I present as a volunteer for ACCESS, which demonstrate techniques for preparing healthful whole foods on a budget. True to that format, this dish costs only 98 cents per serving, according to recipe testers for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.    

Tribune News Service

Polenta With Kale and Garbanzo Beans

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferably medium or coarse

3 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Leaves from 1 pound kale, chopped

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans

2 lemon wedges

If you want to fry the polenta, begin making it a few hours before serving, or overnight. Add the salt to 3 cups water in a medium or large pot; bring to a boil. Have another pot with at least 6 cups water simmering nearby. Slowly sprinkle cornmeal into salted water, stirring continuously. Lower temperature to a very low simmer.

Stir frequently and add simmering water, a ladle at a time, whenever polenta starts to become stiff and dry. Cook until smooth and tender, for about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter and the Parmesan cheese until well-mixed.

If frying polenta, pour into a large, well-greased skillet or wide bowl to a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and smooth top. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place skillet or bowl in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to allow polenta to set. Slice into 6 wedges.

Melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. When very hot, add polenta wedges so there is at least some room between each wedge (do this in batches if necessary). Cook wedges, without touching, until they start to turn brown on bottoms. Flip and cook until brown on other side. Remove to a platter.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until soft, for about 3 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and sauté until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook until hot. Stir in the garbanzo beans and cook until hot. Add juice from lemon wedges and mix.

To serve, place polenta on a plate, either fried or in semi-liquid form, and top with vegetables-chickpea mixture.

Makes 6 servings.

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