Am I alone in my cravings for polenta? I just love curling myself under a blanket on the couch with a big bowl to dig into. I relish plunging my fork in to find the nuggets of cheese and meat that are encased inside it’s pillowy depths. Oh my, it sounds like a rather private activity doesn’t it? I swear this can be family friendly, this polenta-thing. Really.
Now, since I’m Italian, this is a shrimp and polenta recipe, but really it is very similar to a shrimp and grits recipe. Ever wondered what the difference is between grits and polenta? Not much. The main difference is that grits have been treated with lye to make them a more nutrient soluble food. Traditionalists will also say that grits are made from hominy whereas polenta is purely cornmeal.
Polenta is also a great way to clean out your fridge. Stir cooked stews, roast vegetables, or grated cheese into your polenta and you will have an easy weeknight meal. Plus, compared to many comfort carbs like potatoes or pasta, cornmeal is a skinny jean friendly choice. It’s even gluten free. For the record, gluten is not somethig I care about, but my jeans fitting can affect me greatly since I would rather cook than shop.
Shrimp with Tomato and Feta Polenta(serves 4)
Boil a kettle full of water and pour 2 cups of boiling water over the tomatoes. Allow the tomatoes to steep for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid away and reserve. Dice the tomatoes. Heat a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven to medium low. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil and sweat the onion and sun-dried tomato. Add garlic and sweat for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir until it starts to brown on the bottom of the pan.
Whisk in the tomato water, the milk and another 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cornmeal and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir regularly with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula. Adjust the heat so it bubbles gently and continue cooking for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile you can finish your prep by preparing the shrimp and chopping your parsley. Clean the shrimp by removing their heads, shell and tails. De-vein them keep refrigerated until needed.
After 20 minutes, taste the polenta, it should be very soft and no longer gritty. Continue cooking until it is that way. Once it is ready, turn the heat to low and stir every once and awhile while you finish the shrimp and cook the spinach. Taste and add more salt and freshly ground pepper. Crumble the feta and keep it standing by.
Heat a medium skillet to medium-high and a large sauce pan to high. Add a teaspoon of olive oil to the saucepan, all the spinach and a pinch of salt, stir to wilt. While you are wilting the spinach add a tablespoon of oil to your preheated skillet. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper and add to the skillet, cook for 90 seconds, tossing regularly. Add white wine and continue until shrimps are no longer pink. Squeeze the lemon on top and finish with the parsley. Remove spinach and shrimp from heat.
Stir feta into polenta, reserving a little bit for garnish. Pour a ladleful or two of the polenta into in each bowl. Nestle a portion of the spinach on top in the center and nestle it in. Top with the hot shrimp, and a teeny bit of the feta. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.