It’s been a bit of a rough Lent. My Dad gave up talking on the phone with his college roommate… on weekdays… during work… but abandoned that before the ashes faded from our foreheads. After 39 days without meat, I’m pretty sure I’d hurl if I even looked at another cafeteria fish sandwich. No wonder the disciples were so ready to hop off their fishing boats. We didn’t slug through Holy Week much better. On Holy Thursday, my Mom got her feet washed by a Buddhist who then painted her toenails. On Good Friday, my Dad and I walked to get Mexican food and passed a long line of cars turning into to a church parking lot. At first we couldn’t figure out why they were going to church on Friday… not our best moment. On Holy Saturday the collective family convinced me that Lent really ended that morning and I could enjoy a burger with them. I like to think I was following my old pal Jesus on this one, you can definitely not sustain yourself on bread alone, you have to throw a burger and ketchup on it to really get you through the day.
All that being said, up until this Saturday I was rocking the whole vegetarian thing. I made a bean burger… and actually enjoyed it. My parents even made cauliflower buffalo “wings” for a Badger Basketball game and liked it so much they made it again. We became so good at vegetarian cooking that my Mom began to brag about her mushroom and spinach polenta to actual vegetarians. I’d like to say it wasn’t really too much trouble or that I felt cleansed after going this long without meat, but really all I can tell you is that there’s no better feeling than chucking a dry black bean burger in the trash and replacing it with a 100% beef burger, as God intended.
Mom’s Cheesy Spinach and Mushroom Polenta
1 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup fresh spinach, washed and rough chopped
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
I cup polenta
4 cups water (When we are not depriving ourselves of meat products, I use half chicken broth and half water.)
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
First, let me just say that I was having such fun whipping up the polenta, that I didn’t write down any of the ingredients I used. I think these proportions are correct, but, if not, you can just add a little more polenta or liquid as you go. Also, the second time I made it, I used half polenta and half cornmeal due to a combination of extreme hunger and failure to check the contents of the polenta box before I started. They’re basically the same thing and it all worked out well.
Saute the onions in butter over high heat in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and stir until onion is translucent. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more. Last, add the spinach and cook only until it wilts slightly. I am not a fan of overcooked spinach so I always err on the raw side. It will continue cooking after you add the polenta anyway. Set these vegetables aside for a moment.
Next, pour the water (and chicken broth if you’re using a combination) into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the corn meal slowly, stirring constantly.Lower the heat to medium and let it continue to cook. I kept stirring for a while, but then I had other things to do, so I stepped away. I returned to stir it periodically.
After it thickens (about 15 minutes) add the cooked vegetables and the cheese and cook another 10 minutes.
Salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, I poured the polenta into a deep, buttered bowl and let it cool down a little.
When it came time to serve it, I unmolded the polenta on a plate and served it from there.
I was ridiculously proud of this dish and thought I had invented it until I realized later that spinach polenta was a pretty common thing. I will make this again soon and update the ingredients if necessary.
If you makes this, let us know how it goes. Also, send us your polenta recipes. We think polenta is a-maiz-ing.