I can’t count how many times people have considered my husband and I’s nearly meatless diet and asked, “But, what do you eat?” Although we are not strictly vegetarian, we cook almost every meal at home – always without meat. For many, the idea of cooking meatless can be daunting. Many non-vegetarians who consider going meatless for a meal look at their dinner plates — usually a sizeable portion of meat, with a predictable starch and a side of poorly cooked frozen vegetables — subtract the meat, and think, “Is this all there is?”
By changing the idea of a meal “centerpiece,” meatless cooking and planning grows far easier. By starting with a nutritious grain or particular vegetable in mind instead of a chicken breast or porkchop, you find that your options are actually opened, as sides become obsolete. You become enabled to vertically build your meal, or “stack.”
For this dish, I started with one of my favorite grains: polenta. We had recently asked for some to be shipped to us and it had just arrived. Wanting to create a stacked dish, I placed it in my pantry until inspiration struck. Then I did what every healthy cooking/getting fit magazine tells you not to do: I visited the supermarket when I was hungry. I only went for one or two items, but soon I was perusing the cheese aisle, looking for sales and dreaming of what I would do with a good piece of parmesan. That’s when I spotted the gorgonzola. With my polenta in mind, I purchased a large hunk of it and headed to my local veggie-man. There, I chose the roasting vegetables that I would stack on top of my polenta. As I waited in line, I spotted fresh Korean strawberries, the first of the season. I grabbed them, thinking that they might pair well with the reduction mulling in my mind, and hurried home. Forty minutes later my husband and I sat down to a delicious meatless meal, never once thinking, “Is this all there is?”
Ingredients (makes 2 generous servings)
1 cup polenta
3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 small carrot, cut in half, thinly sliced
1/2 broccoli head, stem and florets cut into small pieces
7-8 shiitakes, stems removed, thinly sliced
8-10 small green onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon parsley
Cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
10 strawberries, stems removed, halved
Gorgonzola for topping
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Begin by starting the reduction, as this process takes the most time. Combine the wine, balsamic vinegar, and strawberries in a small sauce pan and heat gently, until barely a simmer. Continue to gently heat the mixture, occasionally stirring and checking to ensure that it is not sticking to the saucepan. When finished, the mixture should be reduced by at least half, and should easily coat the spoon when stirred. This should take between 30-40 minutes. When the reduction is ready, strain and discard the strawberries.
* Never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink, especially when the sauce or reduction is the focal point. Therefore, wines labeled “cooking wine” need not apply for this dish. (Have you ever sipped one?) For this dish, I used a very cheap but delicious cabernet sauvignon.
3. Once you have started your reduction, begin roasting your vegetables. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil, rosemary, parsley, and cracked pepper, and place in a baking dish so that they are spread out evenly. Cover the dish with tin foil and place in the oven. Your vegetables should be beautifully roasted within 30 minutes, though I recommend checking them to aviod burning or overcooking.
4. Check your reduction and vegetables. When both are within 5 minutes of being finished, begin cooking your polenta. Heat the broth until a boil is reached, pour in your polenta, and lower the heat to a simmer. Stir the polenta constantly, until all the broth is absorbed and it appears as a think porridge, similar to grits. This should take 3-5 minutes.
5. When all is ready, place a large helping of the polenta on each plate, then top with the roasted vegetables. Spoon the reduction along the sides of the polenta, forming a shallow, burgundy moat. Finish each plate with a generous hunk of gorgonzola, and an extra turn of the pepper grinder.