Quick cooking: Polenta topped with prosciutto
September 4, 2006
CONCORD, N.H. – Reality is so good at changing our perspective on things.
Generally, I’m no fan of instant polenta. Though the convenience is wonderful (I’ll take one minute of whisking over 45 minutes any day), the taste usually is lackluster.
But I recently realized I hadn’t made polenta in about two years. I was considering why I hadn’t taken the time when my cat suddenly came tearing into the kitchen, hissing and trying to detach my 2-year-old son, Parker, from her tail.
Two years. Funny coincidence.
Rather than wait another 16 years to once again have the luxury of making a dish I love, I decided to see whether instant polenta could be doctored into an acceptable dish.
I started with the base. Traditional polenta is made by sprinkling cornmeal into boiling water, then whisking constantly until it thickens. There are lower labor techniques, but they still take close to an hour.
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But making instant polenta with water results in a goo that tastes how I imagine prison gruel would taste. So I substituted chicken broth. It was delicious. So delicious, I wondered why I hadn’t made traditional polenta this way.
I also tried vegetable broth. Don’t bother. It gives the polenta a bad taste and turns it an unappealing brown.
Sticking with tradition, I next stirred in freshly grated Parmesan cheese, giving the polenta savory, creamy notes. And because Parmesan is so salty, this means you won’t need to season with salt. It’s also good reason to opt for low-sodium broth.
Now, what to do with my polenta. A warm tomato meat sauce would be traditional, but somewhat predictable and not particularly filling. At the same time, I didn’t want to weigh down an otherwise light dish with robust meats.
Eventually, I settled on a saute of prosciutto and chard, a combination that is light but packs intense flavors.
I sauteed the chard with onion, garlic and olive oil, then removed the skillet from the heat before stirring in the prosciutto and covering the pan. The residual heat is just enough to warm the meat and melt some of its fat.
To serve, I heaped the chard and prosciutto over a plate of polenta, then topped it all with a bit more Parmesan.
Finally … polenta and Parker could coexist. Now if only I could harmonize his relationship with the cat.
(Start to finish 15 minutes)
4 cups chicken broth
2 T. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 bunch chard, roughly chopped (with stems)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1Ú4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup instant polenta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus addition for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chard and garlic and saute until the greens are wilted, about another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Stir the prosciutto into the chard and onions, then cover and set aside.
When the broth has boiled, add the polenta in a slow stream while whisking vigorously. Continue whisking until the polenta thickens, about 1 minute. Add the Parmesan and whisk to combine.
To serve, spread half of the polenta over a dinner plate, then mound half of the chard and prosciutto over it. Season with pepper.
Makes 2 large servings.