Tuscan Herb Polenta with Summer Vegetable Ragu

This dish sounds really fancy, huh? What is awesome is that you can say you made something that is delicious and sounds super fancy without very many cooking skills – yay! This is literally my faaaavorite polenta recipe. I am pretty fond of the Mexican polenta cakes I came up with too but, this dish is just so light and bright and wonderful.
I came across a polenta and asparagus recipe a few years ago and have now given it plenty my own twists. I had just come back from visiting one of my best friends in NYC and had stopped at Eataly to grab some super fresh pasta (you need the farro linguine in your life) and browse their imports. I came across this Wild Hive Farm {Hudson Valley} stone ground fine cornmeal.

I was excited that it was local and had never used the ingredient so I thought I would get adventurous and bought it. Three years later, I now purchase it almost every time I go back! That is not to say other brands aren’t good too – this is literally the only one I have tried and I am afraid to buy another! Plus, everyone should support local whenever they can! Since I had no clue what to do with my new item, I obviously just started searching on good ole’ Pinterest and found this recipe (among others) at thekitchn.com.
It was an instant success and made me feel like I was so skilled in the kitchen since most people just buy polenta already cooked. I did want to decrease the salt and thought I could add some more flavor… so I did!
Here is what I changed:

  • I swap in my favorite olive oil: Tuscan Herb from The Tubby Olive. You likely have a specialty olive oil store near you too {just google it} but you can always order theirs online!
  • I recommend Trader Joe’s low sodium organic vegetable broth because it is the best pre-packaged broth you’ll ever find.
  • In early summer, you can get both asparagus and zucchini locally which I think are perfect for the veggies. I have to say that last week I got the asparagus at Whole Foods since it’s no longer at our market but I still love the combo with zucchini and carrots!
  • Sage and oregano are my fresh herbs.
  • While I still use a touch of lemon on the veggies, I quick-pickle shallots or torpedo onions for a little more acid to balance the flavors in the dish. Either is fine, I just get one or the other depending on what is at the farmer’s market!
  • Finally, I wouldn’t be a good dietitian without adding some protein to the meal! I think a wild-caught cod is perfect but shrimp works too. If you’re not into fish, add an egg or some grilled tofu! I recommend seasoning with just high quality freshly ground black pepper to add a tiny touch of spice without overwhelming the dish.

Get started by pickling those shallots or torpedo onions. I just put about a 1/2 C thinly sliced into a small sauce pan, cover with red wine vinegar, add a dash of salt and splash of pure honey. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat and keep covered while you complete the rest of the cooking.

Next, get started with your polenta because it will take the most time. Add both the polenta and broth to a medium pot and bring to a boil. As soon as it is boiling, reduce heat to low-medium and whisk until it becomes creamy. This is where I add a 1/2 tsp sea salt and a tablespoon of Tuscan herb olive oil. Stir those in, cover and stir well every 10 minutes for about a half hour.
For the best efficiency time-wise, wait to chop your garlic, veggies, and herbs until you have the polenta on the stove heating up to a boil. At the same time, heat your oven to 375-400 depending on the oven (you don’t want it to be too dry!) or turn on your grill to cook the fish. I drizzle a touch of the oil on a glass pyrex, crush tons of black pepper over the top of the cod, and place it right on the pyrex.
After you stir the corn meal and cover, heat a sauce pan on another burner over medium with a tbsp of the Tuscan herb olive oil and then add your garlic. Stir, and after 1-2 minutes, add the carrots. Let them cook, covered, for about 3 minutes and then add your asparagus and zucchini. Stir well and cover for about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 large lemon over the veggies and season them with crushed black pepper, a touch of salt and if you like spice, some crushed red pepper. Stir well. If the veggies are sticking at all, de-glaze the pan with 1-2 tbsp of water. You’ll want to cook the veggies so they still have their brightness and crunch, and remove from the heat before they get close to any sort of mushiness! When it is finished, add the chopped herbs and stir them in.
When your polenta has about 15-20 minutes to go, put the cod in the oven. I cook it uncovered for 12-15 minutes depending on how thick the fish is. Remove it from the heat and then drain some of the vinegar from the shallots and plate everything to make it as pretty as possible. We eat with our eyes first! 🙂

Tuscan Herb Polenta with Summer Vegetable Ragu (DF, GF)
Serves 6-8

Pickled Shallots:
2-3 medium shallots or 1 torpedo onion
1/2 C red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 Cup finely ground cornmeal
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tbsp Tuscan herb (or high quality) olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
Vegetable Ragu:
1 tbsp Tuscan herb oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb asparagus, rinsed and cut on a diagonal into 1 inch strips
1 medium-large zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 large carrots, diced
1/2 large lemon
1/8 C loose fresh oregano
1/8 C loose fresh sage
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: Crushed red pepper
6-8 4 ounce wild caught cod filets
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp Tuscan herb oil
Add all ingredients for shallots to a small pot and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and let sit covered while preparing other components of the meal.
Bring the vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat.
Slowly add the polenta while whisking and reduce the heat.
Continue to whisk while adding the salt and olive oil until the polenta becomes thick.
Cover and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring well every 10 minutes, to keep from sticking to the bottom and sides.
Vegetable Ragu:
While polenta is cooking, heat the oil in a large sauce pan.
Add the garlic, stir and cover for 1-2 minutes.
Add the chopped carrots, stir and cover for 2-3 minutes.
Add the zucchini and asparagus, stir and cover for 5 minutes.
Squeeze the juice of the 1/2 lemon over the vegetables, add the salt, grind black pepper to taste, and add crushed red pepper to taste. Add chopped herbs, stir well and remove from heat.
While the polenta is cooking, heat oven to 375 degrees.
Drizzle oil on the bottom of a large glass or ceramic baking dish.
Place cod filets on the dish and grind liberal amounts of black pepper over top.
Bake in over for 12-14 minutes.Alternatively, you can grill the cod over medium heat. I recommend placing the cod on foil to prevent it from sticking to your grill grates.
Plate and enjoy! Leftovers are delicious too so, make enough so that you save time tomorrow!

Have another favorite polenta recipe? Please share! I only make this and the black bean polenta cakes so expanding my recipe list is fabulous – variety is the spice of life 🙂

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