Even though some people claim that pumpkin is old news, what with it being January now and all, I’m still going to share this doozy with you. Because one, I made it Thanksgiving weekend, aka the mother of all pumpkiny weekends, and two, it was really interesting and worth discussing. And tasty as hell.Of the many pumpkin incarnations that came out of prelude discussion to Battle Pumpkin, I was most intrigued by the concept of Pumpkin Polenta. The squashiness of the pumpkin and the corniness of the polenta seemed like a match made in autumnal heaven, and I was surprised I had never before thought of this combination. Plus, the original recipe I came across called for a healthy dose of manchego, and if there’s anything I like, it’s the excessive use of more expensive than necessary cheese. And so, after a surprisingly easy journey back to Brooklyn from LA the Sunday after Thanksgiving (we can get to my post-Christmas, blizzard-foiled return later), I called up my favorite polenta pro and suggested a little dinnertime experimentation. I still had two cans of mashed pumpkin in the cupboard from pumpkin gnocchi gnight, then picked up some Goya-brand polenta (the only one available here in the ‘Burg) and a surprisingly tasty jack cheese (for both its melting qualities and price point). Everything else would come from my cabinet and/or deck.
I was basing this off of a chile relleno dish I had come across a few weeks prior. The chiles were fried and then relleno’ed with the cheesy pumpkin polenta, and served atop a black bean and salsa bed. But as my sous chef and I determined how we wanted to adapt this dish, we decided to forgo frying in favor of roasting the peppers. It seemed healthier and less messy. Plus, after I picked a handful of of poblanos from the deck, we got to grab the tongs and roast the peppers over the flame on the stove, indoor s’mores style. And anything associated with s’mores is alright by me. So, with our
marshmallows peppers ready to go, I mixed up a little base for them. Black beans, crushed tomatoes, a few too many diced Hatch chiles, and an ill-advised diced Calabrian salami (I thought it would be spicy enough to stand in for chorizo. I was really really wrong) went into the skillet, topped with our roasted peppers.
Okay, backtrack. Here’s how we got to the point depicted above. As noted, we used tongs to roast the pepper over a medium flame (I took the rack off the stove to maximize access to the flame. Rack does not seem like the right word, but for the life of me I cannot think of what it is. I hope someone leaves it in the comments, and right as I’m about to view the comment, the answer comes to me in a flash of genius. A similar situation happened last week when I was trying to recall the name of Amy Poehler’s character on Parks and Rec. Leslie Knope, for those of you keeping score at home. But I digress.) After thoroughly charring the peppers on each side, we set them aside to cool, mixed up the beans and tomatoes as described above, and got started on the polenta. I brought a quart of salted water to a boil, stirred in a cup of cornmeal and then let it simmer, stirring off and on while taking care of other kitchen business. Other kitchen business mainly consisted of shredding a half cup of jack cheese and seeding the now cooled roasted peppers.
Once the peppers were seeded and placed atop the tomato bean base, I turned my attention back to the polenta. After about 30 minutes, once it had reached that deliciously creamy consistency, I mixed in a can of canned pumpkin – is that redundant? – and a healthy dose of butter. I topped the peppers with the polenta, and topped the polenta with the cheese. The entire skillet went into a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until the cheese looked like this:
The resulting dish was tasty, no doubt, albeit with a few notes for next time. I liked the skillet/casserole style of preparation; it was more conducive to my kitchen size and supplies than doing individual chiles. However I think the bean base was unnecessary, or at the very least would have been best prepared separately, only to be joined with the cheesy, polenta’d chiles at plating. Also, as mentioned before, I misfired on the choice of salami (it just sounds wrong when I write about it here. WHY DID NO ONE WARN ME?), and the diced chiles, while tasty, packed enough heat to overpower the roasted peppers that should have served as the centerpiece. Still, it was a tasty meal, fun to make, and, best of all, yielded enough leftover, non-baked polenta to turn into pumpkin polenta fries and pumpkin polenta pizza over the next several days.