June 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Polenta is a win from brunch to supper

Cook the spinach in Polenta Bowl with Garlicky Spinach, Chicken Sausage and Poached Egg until it is wilted and silky, but still bright green. The dish is a reminder how good warm polenta and fresh ingredients can be. (Emma Christensen)

Ever notice how you go through phases with certain dishes — practically living off of them for months and then one day you just … stop? Back when my husband and I first moved in together, polenta featured big in our weekly meal routine. It was easy, it was cheap, and it was darn good, especially with a handful of shredded cheese stirred into the pot.

But time flies and tastes change, and I recently realized that it had been years since I last made polenta for a simple weeknight meal. The one-bowl meal Polenta Bowl with Garlicky Spinach, Chicken Sausage and Poached Egg is a reminder of how good warm polenta and a handful of fresh ingredients can truly be.

Polenta, a creamy Italian porridge, is traditionally made with cornmeal (though some consider it more a method that can be used with other grains as well). It can be made from any type of cornmeal. Coarsely ground cornmeal, available in many natural-foods stores, is a great option because it has big corn flavor and light texture. It’s usually labeled “cornmeal,” but some brands are labeled “polenta.”

Of course, the Polenta Bowl dish is not the only option for this versatile porridge. Polenta options range from brunch (Cheesy Polenta and Egg Casserole) to appetizer (Polenta Wedges with Tomato Tapenade) to any number of simple weeknight meals (Soft Polenta with Roasted Portobellos and Snap Peas or Skirt Steak with Pan-Fried Polenta). It also makes a friendly side to just about any meal.

My unintended polenta hiatus might have stretched even longer if it weren’t for a recipe from Sarah Copeland’s book “Feast” — an easy supper of polenta topped with a sautéed winter greens, a poached egg and blue cheese. Finding this recipe produced such an instant craving that I made it that very night, hitting three different grocery stores in pursuit of radicchio. (Worth it.)

The Polenta Bowl with Garlicky Spinach, Chicken Sausage and Poached Egg recipe is an easy mix of things that I almost always have in my fridge: chicken sausage, a bag of baby spinach and a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sliced into thick coins and seared golden, the chicken sausage makes a chewy counterpart to both the creamy polenta and the silky strands of garlic-scented spinach. The cherry tomatoes add a pop of flavor and color, while a poached egg laid over each bowl brings it all together. I used a spicy andouille-style sausage for my recipe, but you could really use whichever kind you happen to have.

The beautiful part of this meal is that comes together in literally 30 minutes. Get the polenta on the stove first, then work on the spinach and sausage topping. Put the eggs in the water to poach just before you’re ready to eat and assemble the bowls as they’re cooking. The whole meal is on the table amazingly fast.

Polenta Bowl with Garlicky Spinach, Chicken Sausage & Poached Egg

Recipe from Emma Christensen, TheKitchn.com

4 cups water (or a mix of water and milk)
1 cup polenta or cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 cup) goat cheese, shredded cheddar, or other cheese, plus more to serve
½ tablespoon olive oil
2 links chicken sausage, any kind, sliced into coins
3 cloves garlic, minced
18 teaspoon chili flakes, plus more to serve
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
6 ounces baby spinach
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs (or 1 per person)

In a 2- to 3-quart saucepan with a lid, bring the water to a rolling boil. Pour in the polenta while whisking continuously. Stir in the salt and continue whisking until the polenta has thickened slightly. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook the polenta for 20 to 30 minutes, whisking vigorously every 10 minutes. The polenta is done when it is creamy, tastes tender, and has thickened into a porridge.

Remove the polenta from heat and stir in the cheese until the cheese has melted. Cover the pot and set aside until ready to serve.

When the polenta is about 10 minutes from finishing, prepare the topping. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the chicken sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned and golden on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the cherry tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle handfuls of the spinach over the pan, adding more as each handful begins to wilt. Cook until the spinach is wilted and silky, but still bright green. Sprinkle with salt and remove the pan from heat.

Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water and set over medium-high heat. Crack each of the eggs into a measuring cup and set near the stove. When the water comes to a rapid simmer, reduce the heat to low and slip the eggs into the water one at a time. Cook for 4 ½ minutes for runny yolks or 5 ½ minutes for set yolks. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer directly to polenta bowls.

Assemble the bowls while the eggs are cooking. Spoon polenta into the bottom of each individual serving bowl. Lay a scoop of the topping over the polenta. When the eggs are ready, transfer them to the bowls. Sprinkle with extra chili flakes or cheese and serve immediately.

Any leftover polenta will set as it cools, but can be stored and reheated for up to a week; stir a splash of milk or water into the polenta after microwaving to make it creamy again. Store leftover topping separately for up to a week. Poach eggs just before serving. Serves 4.

Per serving: 403 calories; 22 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 49 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 265 mg cholesterol; 1,531 mg sodium; 23 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Polenta Wedges with Tomato Tapenade

Crispy pieces of polenta topped with a tangy sun-dried tomato tapenade makes a pretty and tasty appetizer. From EatingWell.com

1 16- to 18-ounce tube prepared polenta, ends trimmed and cut into 12 slices
Canola or olive oil cooking spray
23 cup soft sun-dried tomatoes (see tip)
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 teaspoons rinsed capers
1 small clove garlic, chopped
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Preheat broiler. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Place polenta slices on the prepared baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Broil in upper third of oven until starting to brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Turn and broil until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, pulse sun-dried tomatoes, oil, parsley, capers, garlic and pepper in a food processor (a mini food processor works well), scraping down the sides as needed, until coarsely chopped.

Transfer the polenta slices to a clean cutting board and cut each into quarters. Top each wedge of polenta with about ¼ teaspoon of the tapenade. Yields 48 pieces.

To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate the tapenade for up to 3 days.

Recipe tip:For this recipe, look for soft sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil). If you can only find tomatoes that are very dry (and hard), soak in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then drain and chop them before using.

Per serving (per wedge): 15 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 68 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Soft Polenta with Roasted Portobellos and Snap Peas

Recipe from Sarah Carey, Everyday Food

Leftover creamy polenta from this recipe can be used for the Skirt Steak with Pan-Fried Polenta recipe.

2 cups quick-cooking polenta (not prepared)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed to ½ inch
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound snap peas, trimmed
Grated Parmesan, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. In a medium pot, bring 10 cups water to a boil over high heat. Slowly add polenta, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until polenta is thick and creamy, about 20 minutes. Pour half the polenta into baking dish and let cool; cover and refrigerate for Skirt Steak with Pan-Fried Polenta.

Meanwhile, place mushrooms, stem side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle each with 1 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast 9 minutes. In a small bowl, toss together snap peas and 2 teaspoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Add snap peas to sheet with mushrooms and roast until snap peas are crisp-tender and mushrooms are tender and beginning to release their juices, about 8 minutes.

Divide polenta among four plates and top each with a mushroom, some snap peas and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Serves 4.

Per serving (with ¼ cup Parmesan): 327 calories; 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 25 percent calories from fat); 51 g carbohydrates; 11 g protein; 8 g fiber.

Skirt Steak with Pan-Fried Polenta

Recipe from Sarah Carey, Everyday Food

1 ¼ pounds skirt steak (fat trimmed), cut into 4 pieces and patted dry
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Reserved polenta (from Soft Polenta recipe, above), cut into 8 wedges
4 cups reserved leeks
3 ounces baby arugula (about 3 cups)
½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
Lemon wedges (optional), for serving

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat a large cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high. Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper. In two batches, cook steak until browned, about 6 minutes per batch, flipping once. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, loosely tent with foil and keep warm in oven. Wipe skillet clean and return to heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and cook half the polenta wedges until crisp, about 5 minutes, flipping once. Repeat with remaining oil and polenta. Transfer to sheet with steak. Add leeks to skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes.

2. Toss together arugula and parsley. Thinly slice steak against the grain and serve with salad, polenta wedges topped with leeks, and lemon wedges, if desired. Serves 4.

Per serving: 482 calories; 17 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 32 percent calories from fat); 46 g carbohydrates; 35 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Cheesy Polenta and Egg Casserole

This memorable brunch centerpiece is rich with cheesy polenta, crumbled sausage and baked eggs. Recipe from EatingWell.com

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
13 cup finely chopped onion
4 cups water, plus more as needed
1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
½ cup shredded fontina or mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
6 large eggs

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk cornmeal into the boiling water. Add salt and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the polenta bubbles, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking frequently, until very thick, 10 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, once the polenta comes to a boil, transfer it to the top of a double boiler, cover, and place over barely simmering water for 25 minutes. This is convenient, because you don’t need to stir it as it cooks.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add sausage. Cook, stirring and breaking the sausage into small pieces with a spoon, until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Drain if necessary and transfer to a cutting board; let cool. Finely chop when cool enough to handle.

Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

When the polenta is done, stir in fontina (or mozzarella) and ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. If the polenta seems too stiff, add small amounts of water to thin it to a thick but not stiff consistency. Spread the polenta in the prepared pan.

Make six 2-inch-wide indentations in the polenta with the back of a tablespoon. Break eggs, one at a time, into a custard cup and slip one into each indentation. Scatter the sausage on the polenta and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly on top of the eggs.

Bake the casserole for 15 minutes. Then broil until the egg whites are set, 2 to 4 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

To make ahead: Prepare until just before adding the eggs up to 2 hours ahead; hold the polenta at room temperature and refrigerate the sausage until ready to bake.

Per serving: 295 calories; 17 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 52 percent calories from fat); 17 g carbohydrates; 241 mg cholesterol; 683 mg sodium; 19 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Detroit News staff and wires contributed to this report. Emma Christensen is recipe editor at TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. kitchn@apartmenttherapy.com

The mushrooms and peas in Soft Polenta with Roasted Portobellos and Snap ... (Con Poulos)
Use soft sun-dried tomatoes in Polenta Wedges with Tomato Tapenade. (Ken Burris / EatingWell)
Cheesy Polenta and Egg Casserole only needs to bake for 15 minutes. (Ken Burris / EatingWell)