Polenta Gnocchi with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
I got a little manic about cooking yesterday. Maybe I’m always a little manic in the kitchen. I started browsing the Sundays at Moosewood chapter on Italy and ran across a yummy-sounding recipe for roasted mushrooms. Then the cookbook suggested I pair them with polenta. With a red pepper sauce on top. And suddenly I was making three dishes at once in my tiny kitchen with only an hour and a half to cook and eat before I had to be out the door (note: rushed photos so I could eat and run).
It can be done, my friends. If the polenta is cooked and cooled ahead of time, you can whip together a spectacular Italian meal for that someone special (in my case, it’s my roommate Meredith) in an hour. You might go a little crazy and smell like a red pepper for the rest of the night, but you can do it! Or you could relax in the kitchen with a glass of red wine and cook leisurely, if you have the time.
The original recipe suggested cooking the polenta from cornmeal, which requires half an hour of constant stirring. I don’t have time for that. And my little mom and pop grocery store only sells instant polenta. So I sacrificed a little flavor for the convenience, but it still turned out great. Since the polenta is cooked twice (once in the pan, then in the oven), any textural inadequacies are cooked out. And it’s smothered in delicious cheese and red pepper sauce. Really, it will be okay with instant polenta.
If you don’t care for polenta or don’t have time to prepare it, make the red pepper sauce with pasta. Use a short, thick pasta like penne or rigatoni. Undercook the pasta just a little, drain it, then cook it the rest of the way in the red pepper sauce. Yum!
3 cups water
1 cup instant polenta
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp melted butter
4 oz gorgonzola (or bleu) cheese
Cook polenta according to package instructions. Make sure to whisk the polenta into the water to ensure it's lump-free and stir constantly. When it's done, slop it out onto a large baking sheet or cutting board that's been wet down with cold water to prevent sticking. Using a spatula wet with cold water, spread the polenta to about 1/2-inch thickness. Keep rinsing the spatula with cold water every few swipes. Let it cool for at least half an hour, or up to half a day covered with a cloth.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Brush the bottom of a baking dish with melted butter, then brush the rest on top of the polenta. Cut the polenta into small rounds (1.5 - 2 inches). A shot glass or cookie cutter would work. Take all the pieces left from between the rounds and place them in the bottom of the pan. Then arrange the rounds overlapping around the pan until its filled. Crumble the cheese over the top. Bake immediately, or store in the refrigerator until baking time.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the gnocchi are crusty. I put mine under the broiler for 2 minutes at the end to get it extra toasty on top. If you're making the mushrooms with pine nuts, you can put them both in the oven at 425 degrees F and pull them out at about the same time.
2 large red bell peppers
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped (or 3 canned whole tomatoes and juice)
1/2 tsp dried basil (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil)
black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
To roast the red peppers, place peppers on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place under the broiler, rotating every few minutes until the peppers are almost completely black all over. Remove from the oven. Alternatively, place the peppers above a gas stove flame, rotating until it is almost completely black all over. Place peppers in a paper bag or wrap in aluminum foil for at least 10 minutes to steam. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. It's okay if not all of it comes off; don't wash the peppers because it will lose some of its flavor. Remove the stems and seeds, and roughly chop.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion for a few minutes, then add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. When the onion is translucent, add the tomatoes, chopped red peppers, basil, and black pepper. Stir and let it cook a few minutes more. Puree about 1/2 the sauce in a blender or food processor, then return to the pan. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree about half of it. Add the parsley and serve hot over the polenta. Enjoy!
The sauce keeps well in the refrigerator and can be reheated easily. It goes great with pasta, too.