Friday, June 26, 2009

southern-inspired polenta.

Yesterday, our menu told me it was polenta + veg day. Usually when we have polenta, I just cook it according to the package directions, and serve with roasted vegetables and some kind of sauce, like pesto or red sauce. Last night, I just wasn't really in the mood for that.


I poked around in my cupboards aimlessly, trying to find some point of inspiration. Since it was Thursday- the day before we go grocery shopping, the pickings were getting pretty slim and I didn't want to cut into the burrito stuff for the following night, so I had to be careful. I rummaged around our spice cabinet and my hand came out holding a bag of filé powder. (sounds like feeee-lay. like those stupid-ass mcdonald's commercials.)

Suddenly, I got a craving for gumbo, but we didn't have any meat laying around to make it taste good. (YEAH, MEAT IS WHAT MAKES IT TASTE GOOD.) Then, the pieces all fell together in my brain and I realized I had enough stuff laying around to make some semblance of southern food- although I have to call it 'southern-inspired' so nobody kicks my ass for making hippie chow and calling it southern. This was basically just a pot of sauteed veggies with some bacon fat & some southern spices, served over polenta.

What's that? OH YEAH, I said BACON FAT.


Remember? From the other day when I fried hot dogs in it? Oh god. On Father's Day, I made my husband bacon & eggs for breakfast (and some pathetic, soggy, useless 'hash browns' but we'll talk about that another time) and I finally decided to save the bacon fat and use it for something else. I've been slipping it into stuff all week, not just my hot dogs, haha! It has recently come to my attention that lard is actually pretty good for you, compared to some of the alternatives. It's about half monounsaturated fats, which- if you're keeping track, are the "flat belly" fats that everyone is freaking out about in olive oil and dark chocolate and nuts. I plan to research it some more, but for now I'm using lard sparingly in my cooking, somewhat secure in the knowledge that my arteries aren't hardening as I type. And anyway, having some bacon fat around yesterday MADE MY DINNER, I can't lie. It would have tasted so boring and crappy without the bacon fat.


Oh, do you want a recipe instead of listening to me ramble? Fine.

Polenta with southern-inspired vegetables:

1 or 2 bell peppers- I had half a red one and a whole yellow one laying around so I used those. Dude, bell peppers are expensive, sorry. If you live in Portland, you should be shopping at Limbo anyway for a number of reasons, but one of my favorites is that they always have cheap-ass bell peppers. These were 75 cents, but sometimes they're like 50 cents, which is a lot nicer than the buck fifty or two bucks the regular store tries to charge.

1/2 a red onion (or white onion, whatever)
1 carrot
2 celery stalks
1 or 2 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
some broccoli
a clove or two of garlic, although I have to admit that I forgot to put any in and I didn't even notice. But if I weren't cooking in a hurry next time, I'd add some. Because garlic is delicious.

2 tablespoons, more or less, rendered bacon fat. (Start keeping some in your fridge! Have BLTs for dinner and save the fat in a jar, it's worth it.)

1 can of tomato sauce

some chili powder, a couple generous pinches of filé powder, garlic powder, a bay leaf if you have it, (I didn't have any and it was fine) salt & pepper to taste.

In a large pot with some hot oil, saute onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and bell peppers until they begin to soften, then add zucchini and squash and whatever else. (I waited to add the zucchini & squash because there's always so much water released from cooking it, I didn't want the other vegetables to get soggy.) Stir in a tablespoon or two of bacon fat and inhale deeply, thinking to yourself- "GOD, I LOVE BACON." Add the can of tomato sauce and season with a pinch of chili powder (I didn't go crazy on chili powder, just a generous sprinkle will do), some filé powder (a tablespoon? 2 tablespoons? I don't know.) garlic powder, and salt & pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning to your liking- I ended up adding more bacon fat towards the end so it'd have more of a smoky flavor. Allow to simmer for awhile.

For the polenta, you can just cook according to the directions (we buy Bob's Red Mill, and it's like 3 cups of water to 1 cup of polenta- just bring water to a boil, stir in polenta, and simmer, stirring frequently.) or if you're feeling fancy (like I sort of was) you can saute some veggies in the pan (I did finely chopped carrot, celery, onions, & shallot) and then add the water, bring to a boil, then add polenta. When the polenta got really thick, I stirred in some cheddar cheese- I was going for a cornbread type thing. Spoon into dishes to cool, then turn out onto a plate and serve with veggies in the tomato-y gravy.


I was so pumped on this because I usually fail miserably at weird, improvisational food, but this came out pretty awesome. I blame bacon. Normally I try to offer an idea on how to make something vegetarian, but honestly, the smoky flavor of southern cooking comes from cured/smoked meats, sorry guys. You could probably just add liquid smoke, but for some reason the idea of liquid smoke really grosses me out. If you don't have bacon fat handy, you could just pick up andouille sausage, and then it would just basically be gumbo. Yum!


Anna said...

What type of camera do you have? I absolutely LOVE your photos and am in the market for a new camera!

The Leftoverist said...

I know that feeling of scrounging around looking for inspiration. One of the reasons I read your blog is that you know how to do that (and how to talk about it). My kind of gal!

Jillian said...

What kind of bacon do you prefer? Is there a national brand or is it local? If you like polenta, then I would think you could enjoy scrapple. My father-in-law makes scrapple every xmas. It's worth checking out. Have a good day!

Kathy said...

Yum! I riffed off this for dinner tonight, using up some frozen roasted summer squash with onion and leftover chimichurri sauce in the mix of vegetables. Very yummy, and it cleared out the freezer and fridge a bit. Thank you!

Mz. Spider said...

You trip me out, I swear. Honestly, I think it'd be hilarious if you had a cookbook.

The recipe sounds fantastic. I'm a southern gal so I know all about the bacon fat.

LOVE your blog.

veralicious. said...

brilliant, i must say.

also: lard is SO much better for you than other fats, alas, we are talking about real lard. non hydrogenated. which is harder to find. but i must recommend reading "real food" by nina planck, it is so awesome, i learned so much about food its unreal. i think you would find it fascinating.

thanks for having such a jive blog, i love it.
farewell, katelyn

Alicia Lynn Carrier said...

katelyn, i actually did read that book recently. i mention it a lot in recent posts, thanks!

life according to celia... said...

i want to eat this post.

laura said...

Bacon drippin's (as us Southerners say) make the world go round.

Sister Mary Cupcake said...

I always think that soy burgers taste WAY better fried in hamburger grease. ;) I'm all for bacon fat!

Also, I do have to say that I used your pizza dough recipe and it was AMAZING!

Alicia Lynn Carrier said...

holla sister mary cupcake! i can't take credit for the recipe but i'm glad you liked it! vegan with a vengeance had to be good for something :P

Carmel said...

This may sound like a dumb question, but did you strain the little bacon bits from the fat before storing it?

Alicia Lynn Carrier said...

carmel, i've been asked way dumber questions than that :)

yes, i did strain it, just once through a metal mesh colander, nothing fancy.

Zoe said...

This looks awesome. Polenta is so versatile!

esther said...

Hi! I love your blog and have been following it for a while. I've recently started a food blog of some sort. whenever you have the time, stop by and say hello!

all the bests,

catastrophysicist said...

If you (or anyone in pdx for that matter) find that you are ever short on bacon fat, today I discovered that they sell it by the pound at Pastaworks. Around $5/lb or so.

amy said...

I just found your blog yesterday and I'm totally hooked!! Keep up the good work!

Eliana said...

Awesome looking dish. Bacon Fat RULES!!!

Bossy Chef said...

Come to Lincoln, Nebraska. A colored bell pepper cost $5! No that is not a typing error that is FIVE dollars for one red pepper. Craziness!

Justin said...

that looks tasty, and i really like the photos

Rosalea said...

Wanted to let you know that I fed my family this wonderful meal (with a few tweaks -- we roasted the veggies and I didn't have sauce laying around - so cheddar cheese sufficed) tonight. It's the first time my 7 year old and I have had polenta (my fiance has had it before) and we LOVED it! It has become a staple for weekly meal planning! :)

Rosalea said...

Okay Alicia -- I have to share this tweak with you!

I just had leftover polenta from last night's success and am thinking about making seconds it was so good.

Heat olive oil, chopped garlic (I used two cloves because GARLIC!), red pepper, and cracked black pepper. Slice onions and tomatoes, and set out in pan to carmelize on both sides. Transfer to plate when done. Fry polenta on both sides, and then turn on low to heat through. At the end, pour a bit of heavy whipping cream in the pan to pick up flavors, and then pour over veggies. Transfer polenta to plate, and top generously with grated parmesan. Creamy, YUMMY with a bit of heat.