Polenta Cakes

We are 8 days into our eating from the pantry foray.  The fridge is basically bare.  No butter left, two or three cubic inches of cheese, some wilted garlic stems, a quarter of an onion.  Yet fortified with An Everlasting Meal and a growing sense of determination to make delicious food from the dregs of our supplies, the past few days have been particularly wonderful.  The possibilities for stale bread and a quarter of an onion have never seemed so bright.

A few nights ago we ate a whole bag of pea tops that I had left from the farmers’ market.  It’s been so cold this week that I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat salad, but I finally tipped the bag of them into a bowl and drizzled with olive oil, and fresh ground salt and pepper, and a tiny dash of vinegar.  The delicate leaves and curly stems sort of defied the use of forks, so we both ended up eating them with our fingers, out of the same bowl.   I don’t remember ever enjoying a bowl of any kind of greens quite as much as I enjoyed those, though I think much, if not most, of the enjoyment came from the simple act of eating them with my fingers, with John.

Last night we had some company over for dinner, and I used the last cup or so of polenta I had to make polenta cakes.  (As you can see in the photograph below, I’m not too interested in making perfect circles.  I sort of think that symmetry is uninteresting.)

Polenta Cakes

What you need: some polenta, water, and salt. (Optional: diced onion, garlic, chives, sun dried tomato pieces, butter, cheese, crumbled bacon, leftover chicken cut into small pieces, cooked mushrooms, etc. You can put almost anything in these, but if it’s meat make sure it’s already cooked.)

1.  Bring some polenta to a low boil in salted water (4-5 times the amount of water as polenta).  Once at a low boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer, uncovered, stirring once in awhile until the polenta is thick enough to hold its shape– you should be able to make little mountains of it in the pot that don’t melt back down.  This will probably take about somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes.

2.  Once it’s thick enough, remove from heat and add any extra vegetables and cheese.  Taste the mixture and see if it’s salty enough.  If it tastes bland, add a little salt, garlic powder (not garlic salt, please, please!) and maybe a dash or two of hot sauce.  Keep tasting and adding salt until it tastes really, really good.  Serve as is or make into little cakes (if the latter, see step 3).

3.  Refrigerate the mixture for an hour or so until somewhat cooled, and then form into little cake shapes. Cook the cakes in an oiled skillet for a few minutes on either side, until nicely browned.  Or bake them on parchment paper at 375 for 20 minutes or so, flipping them halfway through.

These would make a nice, portable lunch food.  I served them on top of pasta with this sauce from 101 Cookbooks which was absolutely, unspeakably delicious.  (I magically had one can of coconut milk left,  and some frozen cilantro.  I used some preserved lemons instead of lemon juice, and I omitted the scallions because I didn’t have any.)

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