Saturday, January 19, 2008

a meal for an incredibly lousy day

This is my entry for the January 2008 Monthly Mingle, where the theme this month is comfort food.

All food is comfort food, to some extent. It is always easier to face the world after eating a decent meal - or after preparing one. My reaction to a lousy day is usually to cook something involved and elaborate. My brain gets a break while my senses take over. But my reaction to an incredibly lousy day - the kind that makes you feel as though you've been run over by a Mack truck - is to prepare something simple, soft and warm with too much butter in it. Something that makes life seem less awful. Something like polenta with poached eggs.

Law school has (more than) its share of incredibly lousy days, so I make this fairly often. The polenta, butter, and eggs remain constant, but the kind of cheese and other additions vary, depending on what I have on hand. I picked up poblano peppers on my last shopping trip, so I settled on a Southwestern theme when making this last night, using Monterey Jack cheddar for the cheese.

This dish isn't exactly pretty, but it is appealing: pale yellow polenta flecked with green pepper, topped with a poached egg oozing golden yolk. There's not much technique to this dish, but it does need good ingredients. It's worth splurging on European butter, and the freshest eggs you can find.

Southwestern Polenta with Poached Eggs

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

Take one or two poblano peppers (depending on size and how much you like spicy food) and either roast them under the broiler, or if you have a gas stove, over an open flame. If you're broiling, cut the poblanos into strips (discard the seeds) and place on a roasting tray with a drizzle of olive oil. If you're using an open flame, stick the poblano on a fork and roast, marshmallow-style, until the skin blisters and chars.

Allow the poblanos to cool before removing the skins, which will come off easily when you rub them. Cut into fine dice and set aside. (Roasting leaves poblanos softened, but not fully cooked. If you prefer them a little less raw, you can sauté them briefly before dicing.)

Bring two cups of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add one cup of yellow polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal), and stir vigorously. Turn down the heat. Keep stirring. Add more water if it becomes difficult to stir. Cook until the individual grains are soft (think cooked rice), and the mixture is thick, but not stiff. Stir in the diced poblanos. Turn off the heat.

Take a generous lump of butter and add it to the polenta. Stir until it melts in. Follow with a heap of freshly-grated Monterey Jack. Add salt to taste. Keep the polenta warm while you make the poached egg(s).

(Matt gets credit for demonstrating the following poached-egg technique.)

Fill another small saucepan halfway with water, and bring to a simmer. Stir the water to form a swirling vortex; gently crack the egg into the vortex and cook until the white is set but the yolk is runny, around two to three minutes. Repeat the process if you'd like more eggs. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer the egg to a plate with polenta. Tuck in.

Note: Leftover polenta can be poured into a cake tin, cut into slices, and lightly fried. It makes a good accompaniment for sweet potato and black bean stew.


Ann said...

Mmmmmm. So conforting. And as you observed over at my place, a runny yolk makes everything better. :-)

Yulinka said...

"All food is comfort food.." How true! The polenta looks great, by the way. When I'm super-tired or sick, I like eat milky oatmeal, or cream of wheat, or rice pudding, with butter and dried fruit.

Karyn said...

Last winter, I was obsessed with polenta. I ate it at least twice a week, as fries or lasagna or with spinach-mushroom-white bean ragout. I've made some maybe once in the last six months - isn't if funny how we can just forget about certain foods?

I've been planning on doing something with the polenta in my pantry - I have so many grains in my pantry, and the only ones I eat often are bulgur and rice . . .

MeetaK said...

I love polenta and this is perfect when having a lousy day!

Allen of EOL said...

Yum, I'll have to try polenta with the poblanos, sounds great!

Poonam said...

Polenta looks comforting! Loved your recipe.

Randi said...

this looks really good. i love polenta and i can't get enough of poached eggs - specifically eggs benedict. I love this combination idea.. and i might add some feta and spinach to mine. good for breakfast or dinner. yum!