This week in Gatherings from The Kitchn, we're sharing the details of an Italian Polenta Supper featuring lots of toppings, like hearty braised beef, on a bed of creamy cornmeal polenta. For a lighter, vegan-friendly accompaniment to polenta, let me suggest this spring vegetable ragout. Like the braised beef, it's rustic and uncomplicated yet completely dinner-party worthy. Make it now if you're already basking in the glow of peas and asparagus, or save this recipe so you can celebrate the moment spring arrives.
The first few times I cooked polenta, I followed recipes that called for endless stirring, and as much as I enjoyed the result, I wasn't keen on making polenta very often. All that changed when I tried Emma's recipe for Creamy Stovetop Polenta. This polenta requires much less stirring but it's just as luscious and comforting. It's also sufficiently hands-off and stress-free that while it cooks you can easily prepare an accompanying dish, such as this spring vegetable ragout.
The word "ragout" often brings to mind a dish that's stew-y and heavy, but this is a ragout for spring: light, fresh, and colorful. A medley of new vegetables and herbs makes a lovely topping for heartier polenta, and you can serve it as a vegetarian (and gluten-free!) main dish, or as a side dish for a larger meal. In the recipe below I've stuck to fairly accessible vegetables like asparagus, carrots, radishes, and peas (I even used frozen), but feel free to incorporate other seasonal vegetables like fava beans, baby artichokes, ramps, or whatever grows near you.
Polenta with Spring Vegetable Ragout
Polenta: 4 cups light vegetable broth or water 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Ragout: 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 garlic clove, minced 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces 8 baby carrots (about 4 ounces), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise 6 radishes (about 4 ounces), trimmed and cut into quarters 1/2 cup light vegetable broth or water 1/2 teaspoon salt 8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 2- to 3-inch pieces 8 ounces shelled peas (fresh or frozen) 1 tablespoon each coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, chives, and tarragon 1 teaspoon lemon zest Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Additional olive oil and herbs for garnish
To make the polenta, bring the vegetable broth or water to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart pot over moderate heat. Add the salt and then slowly add the polenta while whisking. Reduce heat to low and continue whisking until the polenta is thickened. Cover the pot and continue cooking. Every 10 minutes, stir the polenta vigorously, scraping the sides of the pan. Continue cooking for 30-40 minutes until polenta reaches desired thickness and creaminess. Stir in the olive oil. Serve within 15 minutes.
Make the ragout while the polenta is cooking. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute until fragrant. Add the green onions, carrots, radishes, vegetable broth or water, and salt. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and peas, cover, and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the herbs and lemon zest, and season to taste.
To serve, spoon the polenta into a shallow serving bowl or individual bowls. Make a well in the center of the polenta and spoon the ragout on top. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and garnish with herbs.
• Feel free to try other spring vegetables such as leeks, ramps, fiddleheads, fennel, sugar snap peas, fava beans, baby artichokes, baby turnips, and morel mushrooms. Substitute by weight or volume and cook heartier vegetables longer than more delicate ones.
• You can also use other combinations of herbs, such as parsley, mint, and thyme.
• For a non-vegan version, you could stir 1-2 tablespoons of butter and/or 1 cup of cheese into the finished polenta. You could also stir 1-2 tablespoons of butter into the finished ragout.