I made this last night for a very small dinner party with two trusted friends. A safe environment for a gamble, in case it didn’t turn out. The photo is terrible because we didn’t eat until late, after talking for two hours while drinking wine, so the photo was an act of duty, without regard to aesthetics. But omg — all I can really say is yum. Which is what I said at least three times while eating. Because I was trying to restrain myself. It is, after all, somewhat unseemly to freak out over the goodness of your own cooking.
To balance things out a bit, my praise was not entirely self-directed. Unfortunately, this is not an original recipe. I got it from theKitchn, who in turn took it from Rancho Gordo. Here’s the link. (http://bit.ly/17RQGQ4) And here’s the recipe, which I followed almost slavishly. My only departures were these: I used frozen borlotti/cranberry beans, I didn’t add butter to the polenta, and I didn’t add parsley or extra cheese to the finished plates. Oh, and I used 1 small yellow onion instead of half a medium onion as in the original recipe. A friend recently suggested that cut onions absorb all kinds of nastiness if stored in the fridge. This appears to be mere rumor. (http://bit.ly/JWhiqo) But, just to be on the safe side, and also because I have been cooking less and therefore never seem to use the other half of a cut onion, I’ve started buying the smaller ones.
Okay. Now. Recipe. It’s seriously worth your time. The individual textures of the diced fennel, the tomatoes, and the beans remain distinct, creating a pretty exciting mouth feel, while the flavor is a delicate balance of sweet richness. The savory polenta is the perfect balance. I highly recommend. It made for an entirely satisfying and delicious vegetarian, gluten-free main course. You could make it vegan by subbing oil for butter and eliminating the cheese. But man. That would be a bummer. The dairy is good here. Enjoy.
Serves 4 to 6
3 T. unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and diced medium
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes or plum tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups drained, cooked cranberry/borlotti beans
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the oregano, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Grate the carrot directly into the pot, stir, and saute for another minute or two before adding the tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt and stir for a couple of minutes to break up the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2-1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made up to this point 1 or 2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate.
For the beans, I highly recommend fresh or frozen beans if you can find them. Indeed, the reason I decided to make this dish was my recent discovery of frozen Borlotti beans at my favorite local grocery store, HarvesTime Foods. (http://bit.ly/ecrXBw) Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans, which, as I’ve posted about before, are my favorite beans. (http://bit.ly/19Kknpx)
To cook them, bring a pot of water to a boil, salt, and add the beans. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse, and add them to the tomato sauce after it’s finished cooking and sitting either off heat or in the fridge. They’ll absorb the flavor of the sauce. Extra deliciousness.
About 45 minutes before you plan to eat, make the polenta. (It will be okay if it winds up being more than 45 minutes, as happened last night.) Boil the water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir in the Parmesan and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm.
About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, warm the beans and tomato sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well.
I served this with my favorite simple salad: arugula with thinly sliced fennel and shaved Parmesan, lightly dressed with walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was crazy delicious good.