December 10th, 2010

Rustic Winter Stew Over Polenta

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Serves 8

Active time: 25 minutes || Total time: About 1 hour

I love that the addition of one word can turn a sloppy one-pot meal into something refined. The word, of course, being “rustic.” This is a hit-the-spot stew for wintertime, and the addition of a soft, simple and creamy polenta make it pure comfort. Even though there are lentils, I wouldn’t call it a “lentil stew.” The lentils are there to add extra body and some meatiness. Chopped plum tomatoes ensure a fresh tomato taste, as opposed to a heavy handed tomato-from-a-can flavor.

Go for yukon gold potatoes that are about the size of a misshapen golf ball, that way you only need to slice them in half to prep. Baby carrots are especially helpful, too., if you’re feeling too lazy to slice carrots.

Of course if you don’t want to use polenta you can use mashed potatoes, rice or any manner or yummy starches.

For the stew:

Olive oil (from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons, depending how much you feel like using)

1 small onion, diced medium

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Several dashes fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup green lentils

1 1/2 cups baby carrots

2 lbs plum tomatoes, chopped

4 cups vegetable broth

1 lb small yukon gold potatoes, sliced in half (if using large ones, cut into about 1 inch pieces)

2 bay leaves

3 leeks, white & light green parts only, in 1 inch chunks (and washed well)

Fresh rosemary or thyme, to serve (realistically, only if you’re taking food photos)

For the polenta:

4 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry polenta

To make the stew:

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute the onion in olive oil, along with a dash of salt, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, celery seed, pepper and salt and saute a minute more.

Add the lentils, baby carrots, tomatoes and vegetable broth. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally for about 20 minutes, until lentils are slightly softened (now is a good time to start the polenta.)

Add potatoes and leeks. Lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 to 30 more minutes, until potatoes are fork tender and lentils are soft. Let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavors to meld. Serve over polenta, garnished with fresh herbs, if you like.

To make the polenta:

Bring vegetable broth and salt to a boil in a 2 quart pot. Add oil. Lower heat to simmer. Add the polenta in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk for about 5 minutes, until polenta is thickened. Keeping heat low, cover and let cook for 20 more minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

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