Kale Polenta

In the U.S., polenta is typically served as a side dish. But in Italy, it is often the main attraction-a real showstopper. I've been seated[ at a table with friends when the cook arrived from the kitchen with the pot of polenta. Instead of ladling the polenta onto our empty plates, as I first expected, the cook poured the polenta from the pot straight onto a wooden board in the center of the table. Steamy and inviting, it crept outward like hot lava. This take on polenta is a showstopper in its own right: its striking green color is beautiful and unexpected. It's so stunning you can skip the board and just haul the pot to the table. The healthy dose of kale puree that colors the cornmeal adds lots of flavor, too. You taste the sweetness of the corn polenta first, then a hint of garlic and finally that green minerality of kale at the end.]

Total Time:
1 hr
Prep:
15 min
Cook:
45 min

Yield:
Serves 6 to 8 as a side
Level:
Easy

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • 2 cups coarse stone-ground polenta
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Kale Puree (see below)
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 3 tablespoons mascarpone
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • Kale Puree:
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound Tuscan kale, thick stems removed (about 1/2 pound after trimming)
  • 1 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Directions
  • Combine 7 cups of water and the salt in a medium pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Gradually add the polenta, whisking as you pour. Keep whisking until the polenta starts to thicken and looks like it's one with the water, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat to low (the polenta should steam and tremble, but only rarely erupt with bubbles) and cook, stirring every now and again, until the polenta is tender but still coarse in texture, about 45 minutes.

  • Stir in the olive oil, kale puree, and most of the Parmesan and keep cooking, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes more. Take the pot off the heat and fold in 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone (it's nice to run into a little pocket of mascarpone, so don't stir too much). Top with the remaining mascarpone and Parmesan, and as much black pepper as you'd like.

Kale Puree:
  • Put 4 of the garlic cloves in a medium pot, fill it with water, cover, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt so that the water tastes slightly salty and add the kale, prodding to submerge it. Cook uncovered until the kale is tender and tears easily, 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Fish out the boiled garlic cloves from the pot and reserve them. Drain the kale in a colander and when it's cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can. Roughly chop the kale, the boiled garlic, and the raw garlic.

  • Combine the kale, garlic, and Maldon salt in a food processor. Process, stopping occasionally to prod and stir, for about 45 seconds, then add the oil and process, stirring once or twice, to a fairly smooth puree. Whenever I make this at one of my restaurants, I use a Vita-prep to make the puree silky smooth, but I like a slightly coarse puree too.

  • The puree keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Yield: a generous 1 cup

  • Photo by David Loftus

Cook's Note: Before I use Tuscan kale, I like to remove the thick stems. I've seen home cooks do this with a knife, which you can do if you fancy. I have a quicker way. Working one leaf at a time, firmly grab the end of the stem with one hand. With the other, use your thumb and index finger to firmly pinch together the bottom of the leaf on either side of the stem and pull away from the stem end, stripping off the leaves in one go.


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    This recipe is featured in:

    Summer Produce Guide