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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Nutrish and Delish -- Polenta

When you are trying to eat healthy, you really need to have easy foods/recipes that can give you variety in taste, texture, and versatility. And, YET, they need to packed with nutrients and hit the hottest button these days that assures you WILL include it in your diet regularly -- CONVENIENCE.

Polenta is one of those foods. It is as convenient to prepare as pasta, IF you choose the fast-cooking type. Regular cooking-type polenta needs to be cooked longer and more carefully as lumps can form and you can end up with a big mess of muck. Unless you ARE handy in the kitchen and plan to spend time cooking your polenta dish,I HIGHLY recommend looking for the quick-cooking type -- which will indicate on the directions that it takes 5-8 minutes to cook. Although you will STILL have to stir the whole time it is cooking, as you do with regular polenta, it is quicker and milled so that lumps form much less readily than the regular type. Regular polenta takes about 30 -40 minutes to cook through. I MUST admit, though, that IF you take the time to properly make the regular polenta, it does result in a superior flavor, texture and yields a much tastier dish. BUT, the fast-cooking is perfectly delicious and acceptable.

Polenta is basically cornmeal or maize. It is high in carbohydrate, but it is a slow-burning, complex carb and packed with fiber AND it is higher in protein than other carbohydrate choices. Thus, it is satisfying and creates a sense of fullness and sustains you. It is also high in the B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and even has calcium.

On its own, polenta has a bland taste, but if you add small amounts of sharp cheese and olive oil, salt, and pepper and/or other herbs, it picks up these flavors very well. When you eat it next to or over a stew or a ragout of your choice or even with bolognese sauce or tomato sauce and meatballs, it can really make for a wonderful alternative to pasta or potatoes. You get a flavorful, tasty product which is extremely filling. This is an important advantage that polenta has for people who are trying to eat healthy while eating less. That is, to feel full with pasta or potatoes, you might need TWO servings or platefuls. But, with polenta, you will find yourself quite content and satiated with one serving.

I encourage you to google for polenta recipes and try them!

Here is a favorite recipe of mine:

Easy Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta


4 chicken breasts, 2 chicken legs, 2 chicken thighs (with skin)
1 large onion or 2-3 small onions, chopped or sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 can chopped tomatoes or 4 fresh pomodori tomatoes, chopped
1 cup white or red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
chopped fresh parsley
oregano, fresh or dried, 2 Tablespoons
1 dried chili pepper
salt and pepper

Heat 2 T olive oil in a large iron pot or skillet. Add seasoned (salt and pepper)chicken and cook on all sides until golden, turning frequently. Take chicken out and place on a plate until you need it again. Add 1 teaspoon butter to pot or skillet. Add sliced mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Stir while cooking until softened. Add chicken back into pot/skillet and stir together lightly with mushroom/onion/garlic mixture. Add the one dried chili pepper. Now pour cup of wine in, covering whole mixture. Cover and let come to a gentle boil for about 8 minutes and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Next, add tomatoes, and gentle boil for another 10 minutes. Season now with oregano, parsley, and salt and pepper. Let chicken simmer on low until you notice flesh starting to break apart from bone of legs. This takes about 15-20 more minutes. You can remove and discard the skin of chicken pieces quite easily at this point or you can remove and discard just before serving. Keep chicken cacciatore on very low simmer until polenta is finished.


Bring a liter of salted (1/2 teaspoon)water to a fast boil. Reduce to a rolling boil and add fast-cooking polenta. While constantly stirring, let polenta thicken while adding 1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese, 1 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, and other herbs, for example -- rosemary or tyme. Be VERY careful to keep lowering heat of pot so polenta doesn't splatter and burn you while stirring. The polenta should be soft and done to a golden mash within 6 minutes.

Serve chicken/mushroom mixture over polenta mash and sprinkle with parmesean cheese.
Serve with green salad.


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