Not to jinx or anything but Summer 2K17 has been a season of peaks so far - peak excitement (I got new job and we’re tying the knot soon! #blest), peak good times with my core people, peak weather for San Francisco (famous last words on the 2nd day of Fogust), peak wardrobe status because there’s never a better time to start dressing for the job you want than once you’ve already landed it, peak produce of course of course, and also peak...absurd, frightening, and enraging round the clock news?? Hmm. One of these things is not like the other. I know you probably already get enough of it from tv or the twitters too. But I can’t look away, and I can’t not bring it to the table for discussion. Because I truly believe that change for good is possible when good people come together and take action, and I’m staying ready.
Along with the idea that all men are created equal and endowed from creation with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, additional truths I find to be self-evident are that the value of a human life is not up for debate (why is pro-life only about fetuses?), that trans people are not a burden on anyone, at anytime, for any reason on account their transness, that sexual assault is not a preexisting condition, and that the Jim Crow era of our nation’s past was one we should regret or, at the very absolute least, learn from so that we never ever EVER repeat it. In reality we are still recovering from it. We can’t move backwards.
I’ve always known that not everyone agreed with me on these fronts, but the current administration has put a megaphone to the mouths of what I used to think of as the ignorant minority of this country. And while it would be nice if we could all just stop yelling, that’s so clearly and obviously not going to happen anytime soon and was never going to happen easily to begin with. So if you find my words to be a bit brash or out of place for this venue, please just consider this as me cranking up my volume to match pitch with everyone who is claiming that me and mine aren’t worth a damn. Ignorance is fixable.
But let’s back it up for a minute and talk about another, admittedly more pleasant, one of the summer peaks - summer produce. (I mean, this is a cooking blog right? I’m trying here guys, I really am. Awkwardness is a part of life.) One saving grace I’ve clung to during this Summer of Ulcer-Inducing News has been getting in the kitchen to chop, stir, mix, and sweat all my worries out over the stove. Somedays turning a bag of groceries into dinner is one of the only things I feel like I got right or really took control of that day, and that’s A-OK, because at least there’s that. When it comes to standing in my truth with a sane mind and an open heart, I will silver-lining the shit out of any and every life scenario, and I consider it a talent.
With eggplant and corn both in season for the moment, this is the best possible time to make this meal with the freshy-freshest of ingredients. Maybe you’ll make it after picking up some recently harvested corn and eggplant from your local farmer’s market this weekend - ooh!, or keep it on hand until your next CSA delivery arrives if you’re a noble citizen of the earth like that. (I’ll admit I’m not...yet.) But even if you make this with a half-dead eggplant and a bag of frozen corn - as I have a few times - it will still melt your troubles away. In fact, somewhere deep in the instagram archives is a photo from the Wednesday Chef when she made it from a can of creamed corn. A can! Bodega food! This recipe is invincible.
The creamy polenta is something of a cheesy, salty corn porridge, and the eggplant sauce on top acts like a tomatoey relish, adding an acidic bite that is rich with umami. It also contains enough protein to be a one bowl meal. Being that it comes from the files of one Yotam Ottolenghi, by nature it does ride the line of being overly fiddly, but definitely not to an unforgivable extent. Besides, the labor is sort of the point isn’t it? To me it is anyway, digging into the effort and letting go of some of the angst. And when it’s finished you have dinner to share with a loved one, or to enjoy alone as an act of self-love, which if it wasn’t already clear by now, is something I think everyone deserves to feel. You too.
Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce, adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into ½ inch dice
1 tbsp tomato paste
¼ cup white wine or broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup pureed tomatoes
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
1 scant tbsp oregano
6 ears of corn (or 4 cups of frozen yellow, white, or a combo)
3 tbsp butter, diced
7 oz feta, crumbled
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Begin with the eggplant sauce. Heat up oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the eggplant until nicely browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, until the paste darkens slightly. Add the wine (or broth) and cook for another minute. Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, sugar, oregano, along with 6 tbsp water, and cook for 5 minutes more. Set aside and re-warm over low heat just before serving.
Prepare the polenta. If using fresh corn, remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and shave off the kernels with a sharp knife.
Place the kernels, fresh or frozen, in a medium saucepan along and cover just barely with water (about 2 cups). Bring to a low simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the corn to a food processor, leaving the cooking liquid on reserve in the pan. Process for a few minutes, until very finely chopped. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
Return what should now be a corn paste to the pan with the reserved cooking liquid and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. Fold in the butter, feta, salt and black pepper. Cook for 2 minutes then adjust seasonings to taste.
Divide the polenta among 4 shallow bowls and spoon the warm eggplant sauce over the center. Swan dive in.