My friend Mike loves musicals. I’m fairly anti on the subject myself, however I do love my friend Mike. So when he and some other friends were over the other day for a five-hour session of Arkham Horror and I asked him to DJ, I didn’t say a single word as we sat through the greatest musical hits of the last 30 years. One of the catchy, annoying songs we listened to (made more annoying by its catchiness) was the song “Omigod You Guys” from the musical Legally Blonde. (Didn’t know that was a musical? Me neither. Thanks for making me a more cultured person, Mike!) The chorus of the song goes “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!” over and over again. At some point I wrested back control of the speakers and we went back to the depressing, complicated, indie rock no one but me wants to listen to.
A few days later I made some pasta, inspired by two gorgeous heads of radicchio I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. The heads were huge, so I’d ended up searing one and roasting the other. They both came out amazing, but that was a lot of radicchio to eat straight. Plus that day I’d had a sweet potato for lunch so by dinnertime I was starving and wanted something super hearty. I ended up with Tinkyada rice spiral pasta with butternut squash, walnuts, tempeh bacon, a tiny bit of vegan cream cheese, and some of both the roasted and seared radicchio. It looked like it might be kind of plain, not really saucy enough. But when I took my first bite, all I could think was, “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!”
Because ohmigod, you guys! It was like, the best thing ever. Like, my mouth was in serious ecstasy. This was a pasta that shall go down in the annals of history as some of the best pasta ever devoured in my home.
Then about a week later I was making one final summer menu from Fresh Food Fast before returning it to the library. The meal I was making was Fresh Corn Polenta with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes accompanied by a Green Bean, Wax Bean, and Chick Pea salad with Harissa. One of the things I like about FFF is that I can be kind of a robot chef with it – the author details the exact order in which to do the steps for making the two dishes together. So I was just mindlessly following along, prepping veggies, taking corn kernels off the cob, blanching green beans, not really thinking much at all about what I was making or how it would taste when I was through. Just following directions. When everything was finished, I sat down with a bowl of polenta that I’d cooked in the rice cooker with butter and salt and two ears of fresh corn, topped with sauteed cherry tomatoes. I took my first bite of the polenta.
Boom. Ohmigod. Ohmigod, you guys.
Where has fresh corn polenta been all my life? It’s like… it’s like pudding, like corn pudding. It’s dessert and breakfast rolled into one, plus you can put cherry tomatoes on top and then it’s dinner, too! The smell alone had me dancing around like a cat in catnip. Why have I never done this before? I do tend to make fun of dishes that are like “carbs with carb sauce and a side of carbs” so “corn with corn added” is just the kind of combo I would have been dismissive of. At least, I would have dismissed it before. Before the Great Fresh Corn Polenta Conversion. The day upon which all members of this household (that would be me) swore that never again shall a summer of fresh corn go by without making many, many batches of our new overlord and master, Fresh Corn Polenta.
It’s been a while since food has made me sit up and take notice like these guys did. I know I’m always raving that this vegetable is the best thing ever, and that recipe is the yummiest concoction, etc., but these were dialed way up. All the way up to Ohmigod levels.
Ohmigod Pasta with Radicchio, Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Tempeh Bacon
This pasta requires several steps to assemble, so it’s not a quick meal. It is totally worth it, however. I started out this recipe with already cooked radicchio and I also used frozen butternut squash (which is the awesomest thing ever – no peeling or thwacking or roasting required!). But I’m going to assume you are starting from square one.
1 lb hearty pasta, like spirals or a wide fettucini
1 large head raddichio
1 small butternut squash, about 1 lb (or one bag of frozen butternut squash cubes)
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2-3 strips tempeh bacon
2 T. vegan cream cheese (optional)
If you are using fresh (not frozen) butternut squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cube the butternut squash into half-inch cubes. (If you need help with this often-confounding step, here is a great tutorial.) Cut out the base of the radicchio and pull apart the leaves. Toss the squash with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and arrange the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until quite tender. Meanwhile layer the radicchio leaves in an ovenproof casserole dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until tender and wilted.
If you are using frozen butternut squash: Thaw the squash. You can either roast the radicchio in a 400 degree oven as above, or pan-sear it. Either way will be delicious.
Coarsely chop the radicchio into large pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Toast the walnuts, either in a pan on the stove or in the toaster oven (my preferred method!). Cook the pasta and drain it, reserving a cup of the pasta water. (I always forget to do this until it’s too late!)
Heat a large pan with a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the tempeh bacon until it is darker brown and a bit crisp. Use a spatula to break up the bacon into small pieces. Turn the heat down to medium and add in the squash and radicchio, sauteeing for a few minutes.
Combine the pasta, bacon, squash, radicchio, walnuts and vegan cream cheese if you are using it. If it seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Eat and enjoy!
Fresh Corn Polenta
Inspired by Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley, but improved upon due to the awesomeness of making polenta in a rice cooker. NO stirring and NO lumps! Just pop it in and let it cook itself!
2 ears fresh, sweet corn, husked
1 cup dry polenta
3 cups water
2 T. vegan butter
1 t. salt
Strip the corn kernels off the corn cobs. To do this, hold the corn vertically, braced on the bottom of a bowl large enough to catch any errant flyaway kernels. Or you could use this awesome technique involving a bundt pan!
In a rice cooker, combine the polenta, water, salt, butter, and corn kernels. Stir to combine. Set rice cooker on “white rice” setting (or the one setting you have if your rice cooker only has one setting). When the rice cooker indicates it is done, stir again to combine. There may be a semi-opaque film on top, but don’t be alarmed! Just stir that back into the polenta.
Eat and enjoy!!! I’ve made this twice in two weeks and all my test eaters (aka guests) have raved about it!