Monday, September 10, 2012

Polenta and greens casserole

The last few months have been some of the most challenging of residency.  I felt stretched to the limit of emotional and mental energy.  4am and I became great friends. 

The greatest challenge is fitting “it all” in.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  With work between 12 and 16 hours a day plus commuting to work, bathing, and dressing, what does that leave? At least I’m lucky enough to be able to come home every night as we have a night float system. 

What is “it all” then?  There’s no such thing.  For me, making dinner, exercising 3 to 4 times a week, sleeping, spending time with my husband and occasionally meeting a friend is enough.  Long gone are the days of piano lessons, reading Madame Bovary, and watching Law and Order marathons.

But sometimes I need those piano lessons and Law and Order marathons to feel like me.  And sometimes I need “me” to be there when my patients are sick and asking hard questions.  So thank God for some moments of peace and quiet for the past couple of weeks.  Thank God for sleep and books, mountains and fresh air.  Bless the hour I had to sit in front of the stove on a Sunday afternoon and lazily stir polenta. 

I shouldn’t complain.  I should be grateful to have a job at all, especially one that I like that’s fulfilling.  It could always be worse, much much worse.  But I want my life to be great.  So, I’m just going to keep trying to find those moments just for me to make me me.  Keep stirring my polenta.

This polenta casserole could be lasagna’s green, vegetarian, gluten free cousin.  It is a great main course but also a wonderful side dish.  It is quite rich but also very healthy, thanks to a properly made polenta that tastes rich with just salt and water.  It is topped with a layer of green veggies and a small layer of cheese and butter to help it brown.  The beauty of this dish though is that it could be an afternoon affair or very quick to prepare.  It could be made with pre-cooked polenta in one of those plastic tubes and topped with frozen spinach which would still be delicious. 

Polenta and greens casserole

4 cups cooked polenta***
2 cloves garlic
4 eggs
½ cup skim milk
1 can artichokes in brine
2 bunches fresh greens (I used yellow beet greens and brocollini) but the options are endless, kale, chard and spinach would all be wonderful
½ lb brussel sprouts quartered
6 oz fresh mozzarella
¼ cup fresh parmesan grated
1 tbs unsalted butter
salt and pepper
chili flakes

Make the polenta or unwrap it.  Pre-heat the oven to 375.  Butter an 8x8 casserole.  Pat down the polenta into the bottom of the casserole in an even layer.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Blanch the greens in the boiling water for 5 minutes.  Remove the greens and strain but keep the water boiling.  Chop the greens and wring out all of the water by squeezing them in your hands or through a strainer.  Blanch the brussel sprouts for 5 minutes in the same water as the greens.  Do not press but drain well as you want the vegetable layer to have as little water as possible.  Drain the artichokes, chop and wring as much liquid as possible from them.  In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and milk with salt and pepper until the eggs are foamy and a paler color.  Add the vegetables, chili flakes and garlic to the egg mixture and stir to combine.  Layer the egg mixture on top of the polenta.   Thinly slice the mozzarella.  Evenly distribute the cheese on top of the casserole.  Add the grated cheese.  Cut the butter into very small pieces and place on top of the casserole.  Bake for 45 minutes at 375.  Increase the temp of the oven to 450 and bake for another 10 minutes until golden and bubbly. 

****To make the polenta, I stole the recipe/idea from Marcela Hazan.  You need 7 cups of heavily salted water boiling over medium high heat in a large pot.  With 1 2/3 cups of Italian polenta add the corn meal grain by grain through your hand over boiling water, constantly stirring to avoid lumps.  Continue to stir.  Once the mixture starts to be violent and sputter, reduce the heat to medium-low or until there are only a few bubbles emerging from the polenta.  Continue to stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  After about 45 minutes, the mixture will be thick and will completely come off the sides of the pot.