Pumpkin Polenta

In my defense, I made this creamy, starchy, and comforting delight back in the days of 2011, before the New Year health kick charged in for its month-long (maybe two) appearance. However, in my admittance I had Chipotle, movie theatre popcorn, and chocolate covered toffee for lunch yesterday so I remain, as your first impression of this post led you to believe, guilty as charged.

This polenta is just something I could not pass up. I looked so inviting on this blog, bright orange from a hefty dose of pumpkin (and you know how much I love my pumpkin and orange foods), its flavored heightened with a touch of paprika, cayenne, and nutmeg. It’s sprinkled with a handful or two of aged cheddar cheese, and intensified with a scattering of pork.

The swelled grains of cornmeal, turned into indulgent creaminess by the mere activations of its starches, serves at a perfect nest for spicy chorizo meatballs, dark and crusted on the outside. It slid slowly into the stomach leaving a hot path along the esophagus and sat like warm steamy bath in my stomach. Its something you eat on a biting cold night. It’s also great for people who are a little upset. It has that calming tendency yet rejuvenation from the gentle heat that kicks in a while after the initial taste.

I know you are probably researching salad recipes right now and other low-carb, lean-protein, veg-rich dishes. I saw the health craze every year when I headed back to college: the salad bar line was a little longer than normal, the gyms looked like a war zone after an epic battle for the elliptical machine, and every girl dresses as if she is ready to work out at the drop of a hat (oh wait, they do that year-round). But I ask you to still consider a little polenta indulgence. In fact, the more I think about it, the actual polenta part of this recipe (meatballs aside) is really not to bad in the health department. It has plenty of protein on its own and is crammed with calcium and beta rich pumpkin. Plus, with all of the add-ins and flavorings, you end up with something quite a bit more advanced than your standard polenta. Pair it with a succulent sauté of mushrooms and dark kale and I think you can end you day relatively guilt free yet filled with warming and rich food.

Pumpkin Polenta
serves 4 as a main adapted slightly from Evil Shenanigans

I’m not including the meatball recipe because it is simply ground chorizo mixed with a little onion and breadcrumbs, formed into meatballs and cooked in a frying pan until done. And it’s really more of a suggestion. You could also sprinkle over some bacon or like I said, some sautéed leafy greens or even some warmed black beans. This also reheats nicely.*

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. butter
½ onion, finely chopped
1 garlic glove, minced
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup milk
3 cups good-quality chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup polenta
¾-1 cup shredded aged cheddar cheese
2 Tbs. cream cheese

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a Dutch oven or an ovenproof pot with a lid, heat the oil and butter over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, cayenne, paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Stir and continue to cook for another minute. Add the pumpkin puree and mix to combine. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pumpkin is slightly toasted.

Whisk in the milk and the broth, breaking any lumps in the pumpkin mixture, until smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly. Once added, give the mixture a final stir, cover with the lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Stir every ten minutes, adding more broth, milk, or water if it starts to look dry.

Meanwhile, cook any additions you plan to eat with your polenta, whether it be chorizo meatballs, bacon, or vegetable/beans.

When the polenta is finished cooking, remove from the oven and add the grated cheese and the cream cheese. Stir until completely combined and add any more liquids if necessary until you reach you desired consistency. Serve immediately.

*Pour any excess into a glass or ceramic dish, spread even, and refrigerate. To prepare leftovers, you can cut the set polenta into wedges and pan-fry them or mash a portion of it in a bowl into fine crumbles, add some water and/or milk and microwave for about 2 minutes, stirring vigorously every 30 seconds, until creamy and hot.