Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rice cooker polenta! ... and ratatouille

I will be making polenta more often now.  I made it in my rice cooker the other night, and I think it's better, and WAY easier, than making it on the stove.  Traditional polenta calls for nearly constant stirring for 20-30 minutes.  I think the reason for this is to prevent burning and clumping, not to significantly improve the texture, as is the case in traditional risotto.  With the rice cooker, the heat is low enough so that it doesn't burn, and I'm willing to bet the tight seal and slightly elevated pressure quickens the cook time.
Kinda hard to see but I was trying to capture the creamy texture.

I'm pretty sure you could just throw in whatever seasonings, cheese, butter, etc. that you want.  I used a 4:1 water to polenta ratio and used Bob's Red Mill Brand polenta.  I thought it would take a while, so I put it in the rice cooker, flipped the switch to cook, and didn't check it for probably half and hour.  It had already finished cooking and switched to "warm," and I think it had been done for a little while.  But I don't think there's any harm in letting it stay in warm mode, making this a perfectly flexible side dish.  The parmesan rinds imparted a nice flavor... I learned a trick at some point to save the rinds from wedges of hard parmesan cheese after I've grated the gratable parts for topping pasta and other things... just throw the rinds in a ziploc and keep them in the freezer.  Then add them to risottos, soups, and apparently polenta for extra flavor.

We ate the polenta with ratatouille.  It is based on a Cook's Illustrated method and recipe.  I just discovered Cook's Illustrated.  The website and magazine are by paid  subscription only, but I really like it and think it's worthwhile.  I love their emphasis on methods and explanations of why things happen as they do in a recipe.  They approach cooking scientifically.  I changed the recipe just enough to not feel bad putting it up here, but really the awesome method not at all my own.  I used to make ratatouille just by kind of sauteeing everything together, and usually using canned tomatoes.  The CI method of roasting the eggplant and zucchini first makes a much chunkier stew than I used to make, and I think that's a good thing, given my predilection towards vegetarian dishes with texture.  So I think I'll stick with this method, it's still infinitely adaptable, and though it might take a little longer than a simple sautee, it's not any harder and more closely mirrors the traditional French preparation.  Also any combo of fresh basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary would only make the ratatouille better.  Add them if you have them!
I love eggplant even though it makes my mouth itch.

If anyone makes the rice cooker polenta and has thoughts on how it compares to a traditional polenta, I'd love to hear them.  I don't make polenta often enough to know for sure how it compares.

Rice cooker polenta
1 c. polenta
4 c. water
1 T. butter
2 T. grated parmesan or pecorino
1/2 t. salt
a few parmesan rinds, if available

1.  Combine in rice cooker.  Stir once.  Push down the switch to cook.  Come back when you're ready for it (at least 15-20 minutes, probably).

2 lbs. eggplant, cut up in 1" chunks
2 medium zuchinis (about 1-1.5 lbs), also cut up in 1" chunks
About 4 T. olive oil
5-6 small carrots (or 2-3 big ones), sliced into coins
2 bunches scallions or 1 medium or large onion, chopped (I would have used an onion but only had scallions)
2 large, very ripe tomatoes, cut up in 1-2" chunks
1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped
1 t. thyme, dried
ground black pepper

1.  Place eggplant in large colander set over large bowl; sprinkle with salt and toss.  Let eggplant stand for 1 to 3 hours.  Rinse eggplant well under running water to remove salt and spread in even layer on a clean towel.  Cover with another towel.  Press down firmly until eggplant is dry and feels firm and compressed.
2.  Heat oven to 500 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.
3.  Toss eggplant, zucchini, and 2 tablespoons oil together in large bowl, then divide evenly between prepared baking sheets, spreading in single layer on each.  Sprinkle with salt and roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until well-browned and tender, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through roasting time.
4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrot and onion (if using, if using scallion add in about 10 minutes after the carrot); reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes total.
5.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
6.  Add tomatoes and cook until they release their juices and begin to break down, about 5 minutes.
7.  Add roasted eggplant and zucchini, stirring gently but thoroughly to combine, and cook until just heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and thyme; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve over polenta.

PS - I would be remiss in not thanking Grant Family Farms for the incredible late season zukes, eggplant, and tomatoes.  SO good!!


    1. do you want my microwave polenta recipe? it is really good, and I have 2 versions for soft or firm types. It is from the NYTimes Microwave Cookbook. So easy.

    2. Oh yeah! I forgot about that recipe. You wrote it down for me and I think I have it but not sure where. But if you have it handy maybe post as a comment? Maybe sometime I will do a polenta cookoff/tasting trying all the different methods.