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weak day meal

in which we finally get to Italy

Do you ever catch yourself doing something stupid, and in plenty of time to stop yourself, and yet for some reason you just let the tape run until the end? Okay, maybe that is just me. As I have said, if I can’t set a good example, at least I can serve as a horrible warning.

To wit: It’s possible, when reading a fabulous food magazine, to develop notions that you’ll bust a little move at dinner. Sure, everyone likes polenta and at this point you can basically make it with your eyes closed since it happens at least once a week. But White Polenta with Parsley and Gorgonzola–well, that sounds like something brave and new. A novel twist on the same old same old.

This is all well and good, if it is–for example–the weekend. I warmly encourage this kind of thinking in myself and others, on the weekend. But if, back in September, you noticed that for the first time in conscious memory and perhaps the last time while all three children share your roof that you were almost positioned to have one day a week where no one had anything to do after school, and that day is Thursday, and the price you have to pay for that heavenly day of gathering all the nestlings under your wing before the gloaming and making clucking sounds is Byzantine, Olympic, Boolean arrangements of lessons and classes on some of the other days, then I advise you to stick to the old standards on those days. We all gave up a little something to create our one extremely-worth-it day of sanctuary: a potentially broadening dance class here, a previously gratifying string ensemble here, the potential to schedule dentist appointments without a slide rule there, but the main sacrificial beast we roasted was Monday. And every Monday it is as if Monday has never happened before: what time is that class over, again? remind me: who’s picking her up? will I have time to change in between? why didn’t you bring my bag?

So even if you think to yourself, well, maybe not Gorgonzola–that’s too big of a leap. Let’s use Taleggio instead. Even if you cut yourself a little slack and use the yellow polenta you already have rather than detour to the Gourmet Shoppe to see if they have any white–even if you keep it really simple, Monday (whatever day of the week Monday happens for you) is not the day to try the Novel Twist.

It IS the day to try this, though, if you feel up to it. This can be made ahead, before the carpool hits the fan, and heated slowly while you attend to other matters, and seems to hit the same spot as macaroni and cheese, except it is a whole grain and not pasta AGAIN. If your weekday is such that these steps elude you also, then you can alternatively consider making a pot of quick-cooking soft polenta, dosing it with plenty of grated cheese, and serving it up with an egg fried in olive oil and a shot of tomato sauce or pesto on top and be pretty happy, I think.

In case you do have time for a few more steps, here is Monday Polenta. The herbs are not essential–it’s the absentee-cook oven-finishing of a process that normally demands 30-40 minutes of attentive stirring that’s revolutionary. But the herbs do satisfy the urge to be satisfied, if you know what I mean, without challenging the faint of heart.

baked herb polenta

Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herb Farm Cookbook

Serves 4-6


1 T butter, softened

4 ½ c water

1 tsp salt

1 c medium-coarse ground polenta or cornmeal or yellow corn grits (I get this in the bulk bins at our co-op)

2 T finely chopped fresh oregano

1 T finely chopped fresh thyme

1 ½ c grated cheese (I like a combination of parmesan and aged gouda, or medium cheddar, or Parrano. The original called for gruyere, which I do not love, but you might)

Preheat the oven to 350 (if you will be cooking to completion right now). Coat a shallow 1.5 quart baking dish with the butter. Bring the water with the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal as you whisk constantly. Continue to stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Don’t stop stirring or it will spit in your eye. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs and half the cheese.

Spread the polenta evenly in the prepared dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. You can pause here for as long as you need to. When you are about an hour from wanting to eat it, bake the polenta until it is bubbling all over and the edged begin to brown. If extra toastiness on top is desired and you have chosen a pan that will not explode under a broiler (no glass!! NO GLASS!!), then you can broil it a moment, but remember I said to watch it the whole time, not walk away thinking you will remember to come back in time. The polenta can also rest at this stage; it is soft and moundish on the plate when it is first baked, and as it sits it becomes firmer and slice-able.

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