Note: This recipe was created last month and scheduled in advance for Profood, after my previous vegetarian post, before any of y’all get overexcited by the fact that I’ve fallen off the veggie wagon (as a matter of fact, I have. By choice, more of that later). Anyway, back to the recipe!
My second recipe challenge, with mystery ingredients from Profood – this time I was given instant polenta and a jar of what I thought was tomato pasta sauce, but instead turned out to be something more exciting.
As soon as I received them, I knew I had the starters of a great winter meal, but I didn’t want to do just polenta and sauce. I wanted something with a little more ‘oomph’.
Thinking the jar of sauce was tomato, I had planned to do a Meatless Monday, and assembled some more veggies to ramp up the veggie factor. It wasn’t until I actually opened the jar to discover it was Tuscan Chianina Beef Ragu, with big big chunks of tender beef (already pre-cooked) – serves me right for not reading the label! The jar is large (500 grams) and you won’t need a whole jar. It is full of big beef chunks and is very tasty. I added a little more tomato flavour with paste and a cup of water with extra veggies to make it more stew-like, but would be great on its own with pasta, plain polenta or mashed potatoes.
So Meatless Monday never happened (no complaints here) but with a few tweaks, even vegetarians and vegans can enjoy this dish (just use passata, oil, water, veggie stock, in place of dairy and meat).
There is some prep involved, but since the ragu is already pre-cooked and the polenta is instant, it’s actually not too bad. I know the Italian purists out there will sneer at my use of instant polenta, but honestly, I give zero f***s because it makes my life hugely easier and you can barely taste the difference with this much flavouring going on. Real polenta is labour intensive and requires a watchful eye and strong biceps for stirring for 40 minutes – ain’t nobody got that kinda time!!
Be warned – the polenta has no English instructions but it’s very simple to make. For every cup of polenta (which swells to 4 times the amount – be warned) use 4 cups of liquid. If you are vegetarian or vegan, use water or vegetable stock. I wanted a slightly creamier, savoury flavour so I used half water and milk, with a garlic and vegetable stock cube. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then pour the polenta in a steady, gentle stream and whisk as you go. Start stirring with a wooden spoon when all the polenta is in. It will immediately begin to thicken and keep stirring until it has a creamy, scrambled egg texture. If you want to amp up the fat factor (which is always good), put in chunks of butter and cheese and stir in until melted.
- 1 bell pepper per person
- 1 cup of instant polenta (enough for 4 peppers)
- 4 cups of water / milk / stock – any combination or by themselves
- Butter and cheese for the polenta (optional)
- Cheese to top
- 1/2 jar of Spezzatino di Chianina Beef Ragu sauce or 250 grams of tomato passata
- 2 long, local eggplants or 1 large, fat eggplant
- 1 red pepper
- 1 onion
- 2 small carrots
- 1 large tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 cup of water
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- Salt and Pepper to season
- Olive oil
- Preheat your oven to 200c. Slice the top of the bell peppers off and hollow out. Place in a deep baking dish upside down (skin side up) and roast for 20 minutes.
- Chop your eggplant and salt well and leave to drain of bitterness for 20-30 minutes. Prep your veggies by dicing them. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and gently squeeze out the water.
- Gently fry the onion in some olive oil with the garlic. Add the carrots and fry until softened. Add the pepper and eggplant. Fry on low for 15 minutes. Add the beef sauce, and the tomato paste. Stir well and add the water. Cover and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the polenta by bringing the 4 cups of liquid to a simmer, and gently whisking in the polenta. Add butter and cheese if you wish a creamier texture. Keep stirring well, until the polenta has a creamy, scrambled egg texture and remove from the heat.
- Remove the bell peppers from the oven, and turn right side up, and fill with the polenta. Be generous when topping with the ragu. Add some more cheese on the top and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.
- Vegans and vegetarians - Substitute the ragu for passata, water for milk, oil for butter.
- If you have leftover polenta, pour into a square box and refrigerate. The next day, slice it up and fry in some olive oil until crispy golden brown and eat with a nice, wintery salad or the ragu leftovers!