On these chilly days of early winter, when the holidays are approaching fast and everything seems to be moving at a million miles an hour, my cooking is all about simple comfort food.
In particular I have been loving polenta-based, one-bowl meals lately. Creamy, soothing and satisfying — it’s almost like having a cozy bowl of oatmeal for dinner, but better! Polenta, or coarsely ground, Italian-style cornmeal, is one of my favorite grains because it’s quick-cooking, full of flavor, gluten-free, and can go in a sweet or savory direction.
One of my favorite ways to prepare polenta is in the aglio, olio, peperoncino style (i.e., with garlic, oil & chile pepper), which infuses the cornmeal with loads of wonderful flavors while it’s cooking. Finishing the polenta with chopped fresh parsley, butter, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano takes it to another level entirely. It’s delicious on its own, but even better topped with sautéed or roasted vegetables.
This time around I roasted cubes of butternut squash with a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of big pinches of Fennel Seed Gomasio (which you can find in my shop) until the squash was tender and caramelized.
The creamy, savory polenta and tender, earthy-sweet squash are a divine pairing and exactly what I want to eat when I return home after a long winter day. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a little more freshly grated Parm and some toasted nuts or seeds for crunch and it’s the perfect one-bowl meal.
Garlicky Polenta with Fennel-Sesame Roasted Butternut Squash
1 medium butternut squash (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and diced into 3/4-inch pieces
extra virgin olive oil , as needed
1 tablespoon Fennel Seed Gomasio (or 1 teaspoon sesame seeds + 1 teaspoon fennel seeds + 1/2 teaspoon salt)
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile (or to taste)
4 cups water (or vegetable or chicken broth)
1 cup polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + 2 tablespoons for garnish (or sub other hard, salty Italian cheese such as Pecorino or Grana Padano)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley + 2 tablespoons for garnish
3 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl combine butternut squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, gomasio (or fennel seeds, sesame seeds + salt), and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss to coat squash. Transfer to sheet pan and roast until squash is tender and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes, shaking pan halfway through. Keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add garlic and chile flakes and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add water and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly add polenta to the boiling water, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta is thick and glossy, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1/4 cup of the cheese, and 1/3 cup of the parsley. Taste and add more salt, black pepper and/or chile flakes if more seasoning is needed.
Ladle polenta into bowls. Top with roasted squash, a drizzle of olive oil, parsley and toasted seeds.