I think I'm a closet vegetarian. While many in my family dream of skirt steak, short ribs and lamb chops for dinner, it's vegetable-based meals that make my mouth water most. Plus, they're so much easier to throw together when I've got zero plans for dinner, as was the case on Tuesday. After working in the city all day, followed by Catherine's intense and final volleyball match of the season, I didn't walk through the door 'til after 7 pm. I had no intention of going to the market at that hour, so I worked with what I had. With fennel, zucchini, polenta, and a bevy of fresh herbs in hand, I'd decided on one of Heidi Swanson's recommended dishes, which I had made a few month's back. While Heidi's recipe (gleaned from My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Britton) calls for only fennel atop delicious herbed polenta, since I had some zucchini I wanted to use, I carmelized and added it, as well. (I would recommend topping this tasty polenta with any vegetable of your choice, actually.) I served it with a mixed green salad, and we were finished eating by 8:15!
- 2 to 3 cups vegetable broth or water, as needed
- 1/2 cup organic, non-GMO polenta (I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Medium Ground Cornmeal)
- Fine sea salt
- 1 large fennel bulb (and 1 medium zucchini, if using)
- Knob of ghee or clarified butter (I use EVOO)
2 tablespoons raw fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup, or to taste
1/4 cup mixed herbs, such as dill, chives, parsley
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Cold-pressed olive oil
Herb flowers for garnish (I didn't have any, sadly, so I didn't use)
- Heat the vegetable broth in a large saucepan until simmering. Slowly pour in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent clumping. Add a few pinches of salt. Stir constantly for a couple minutes; then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for 30 to 45 minutes (read the label on your polenta for cooking time approximations). If the polenta becomes too thick, add more broth or water and whisk until smooth The polenta is cooked when you rub a small amount of it between your fingers and it is no longer gritty, but instead creamy and smooth.
- While the polenta is cooking, cut the fennel bulb into thin vertical slices (from the top to the base). If using zucchini, slice into thin discs, as well.
- Heat the ghee (or butter or olive oil) in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the fennel slices to the skillet, making sure that they all come into contact with the surface of the skillet (not overlapping). Sprinkle with sea salt. Do not stir or move the fennel until it is golden on the bottom, 5 to 7 minutes. When all the pieces have browned, flip them onto the uncooked sides. When the underside has also browned, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds and the maple syrup, and let cook for 1 minute. Toss to coat, transfer the fennel to a plate. Season with more salt if needed. (If using zucchini, as well, follow same steps as above once you've removed fennel from the pan.)
- Add the chopped herbs and grated cheese to the polenta, and give it a final stir. Whisk in a little more broth or water if necessary.
- To serve, scoop a portion of polenta onto a plate, then arrange the caramelized vegetables on top. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Garnish with herb flowers if available.