Nothing, nothing is more comforting, more satisfying, more likely to cure what ails you than a hot bowl of buttery, cheesy polenta, except perhaps a hot bowl of buttery, cheesy polenta that you can divide in two and turn into a completely separate meal the following day.
If you've never made polenta, or haven't made it in a while, let me assure you that it's not difficult. A nonstick saucepan helps, if you have one, plus an apron, because it can sputter. Beyond that, it's essentially cornmeal mush, which makes it about as unfussy as these things go. You stay close by, you keep the heat lowish, you let it bubble, gurgle, sigh, and undulate in the pan, and about 25 minutes later, you have polenta. (It actually threatens to be ready sooner, but I really try to wait to pull it until the 25 minute mark. This gentle, slow cooking ensures a creamier result.)
Then, when it's nice and relaxed, just porridgey and mellow and open to just about anything, I'm very naughty and dump a whole bunch of cheddar cheese on it. I may also accidentally fold in a pat (or two) of butter. And dust it with black pepper. And toss in some spinach. And scallions. And you know what? If you happen to have some leftover pot roast (I did), it's just lovely hanging out on top. If not, the polenta's still great.
But here's the key. To extend the euphoria, you want to divide it in half right away, right now, because otherwise I swear you'll eat the whole thing in one swoop. (I know you.) Scrape half of it into a greased square brownie pan. Tomorrow, you shall fry up this second batch, and you shall eat it with eggs.
But today, today is for you. Grab a spoon. Sink it in the still-soft polenta. Isn't that nice?
The sun, shining outside until moments ago, is suddenly here. First in your saucepan, then on your spoon, and now, finally, in you.
Good job, cowboy.
Cheddar Scallion Polenta, two ways
I love the combination of cheese, scallions, spinach, and black pepper here, flavorings that work equally well in the soft-style polenta as they do when you fry up the firmer squares the following day. On day two, prepare your eggs however you like, but a nice loose yolk oozing over the crispy patties? Magical.
Makes about 10 servings over 2 meals (4 servings soft polenta, 6 servings crisp)
1-1/2 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, thinly sliced into rings
6 ounces sharp white Cheddar, grated (about 1-1/4 cups)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup baby spinach, rough-chopped
7 big grinds freshly cracked black pepper
In a large, preferably nonstick saucepan, bring 6 cups generously salted water to a boil. Stream in the polenta, reduce the heat, and cook uncovered at a gentle gurgle until thick, stirring frequently. This will take about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, coat a 9" square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
When the polenta is ready, remove from the heat. Fold in half the scallions, the cheese, butter, spinach, and black pepper. Scrape half of this mixture into the prepared baking sheet and smooth the top. Let cool to room temperature (about 15 minutes). Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, eat the soft polenta that remains in the saucepan, sprinkled with the remaining scallions.
The next day, cut the firm polenta into 6 large squares. Shallow-fry the squares until very crisp on both sides in a generous glug of olive oil. Nudge the squares aside, and fry a few eggs while you're at it. Drape the eggs over the polenta. There. Heaven and earth and the bright yellow sun, all in happy harmony.