Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ask the Internet: Recipe Help?

Today’s question is born of frustration.

Q: Sweet readers! I’ve been working on a recipe for Parmesan Polenta with Spinach and a Fried Egg the past few days, but can’t get it right. It’s driving me crazy.

The polenta seems dry and needs more flavor, the spinach is giving off a weird aftertaste, and the whole thing begs for more textural variety. Can you make some suggestions to improve the situation? (Note: Not this situation.)

A: Here’s the recipe, portioned for one person:

1/3 cup polenta
1/4 skim milk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons parmesan
1/2 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 ounces fresh spinach, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) In a small pot, combine the polenta, milk, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until all liquid is absorbed. Stir in parmesan until melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a bowl.

2) In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add spinach. Saute 1 or 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a little water. Cover and steam until wilted, 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place on top of polenta.

3) In the same pan or a small nonstick pan, melt butter over high heat. Crack egg into pan. Add 1/2 tablespoon water. Cover and steam until yolk develops a slight milky film. Kill heat. Place on spinach/polenta. Sprinkle with parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve.

Seriously, I’ll take anything you got. Plus? If your suggestion works out, it’ll be part of Monday’s recipe, and you’ll get the huge, honkin’ credit! (I know, I know: money would be nicer.)

The comment section/weird spinach is awaiting your words.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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Carrie said...

i'd cut down the polenta to 1/4 cup. i always here it should be a 3/1 ratio and since you're at a less than 3/1 ratio that explains the dryness

Ira said...

If you are not going for the gelatinous polenta texture try grits instead it will kick up the texture. Also you could toss in a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. To build flavor I would use chicken (or veggie) stock instead of water. I got nothing on the spinach.

Morgan said...

I have similar problems with polenta so I've got nothing there (although I love it, so I continue to make it even when it dries out).

When I make polenta I don't cook my greens (spinach, arugula, mesclun)- just throw them on top when everything's done. Between the egg and the heat of the polenta they wilt, but still stay crisp.

I also like to add roasted mushrooms- slice up, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and rosemary if you like it. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes or so, or as long as it takes for them to get really crispy. This might add some extra texture too.

Ona said...

I just made a really similar dish and posted on my blog www.eatniks.com-- I roasted the vegetables which made the greens (collards, in my case) really crispy, a nice contrast to the gooey polenta and egg. Good luck!

Evelyn said...

Use some broth in place of some or all of the water. Polenta is really bland when cooked without some broth.

For the spinach, maybe try replacing it with a sturdier green? Like kale? I am always encouraging people to replace things with kale. If you don't want to do that, maybe try cooking it for less time. 5-6 minutes sounds high for spinach.

Clea said...

Use veggie broth instead of the plain water, maybe up the garlic by a clove and/or add a little onion or garlic powder to the polenta. Basically, add some spices! That should help flavor-wise.

Michelle said...

Too lean. Either use whole milk and/or chicken broth, and maybe stir in some butter.

Meagan said...

How about adding some garlic or caramelized onions to the spinach?

tatiana said...

Maybe you have lots of spinach you are trying to use up buuuuuut....I would use chard instead of spinach just because cooked spinach tends to have strange aftertastes and texture. To me anyway.

Anna N said...

I'm seconding the 3:1 ratio of liquid:polenta.

My theory on the weird-tasting spinach is that you're overcooking it. You could throw it on top like Morgan suggested. Or if you want to cook it more, if you cover the pan and steam for 1 minute, then turn the spinach over with a spatula, then cook 1 minute more, the spinach should be completely wilted and done.

Finally, maybe add some panko breadcrumbs or homemade breadcrumbs to the spinach for textural excitement?

Claire Dawson said...

I don't have much experience with polenta, but I'd say the problem you're having with the spinach is that you're steaming it when you don't need to. Just saute it until it's wilted and skip the steaming step. I think you're overcooking it and releasing sulfur compounds that are affecting the taste. (Although, honestly, that's pretty much pseudo-scientific conjecture on my part, so take it with a grain of salt. Point is, though, I've had good results just sauteing.) Also, add a squeeze of fresh lemon to this recipe - on top of the spinach, probably. An acid will brighten things up considerable and is probably the missing element.

Diane said...

Wow - way too little liquid. When I make polenta I typically do it 4:1 water to polenta. Cook, stirring from time to time until done, then add parm and butter right at the end to make it all glossy and yummy.

I often cook spinach & mushrooms to put on mine and I find it needs something to cut the metallic spinachy flavor. I typically saute up some leeks or a shallot in butter and then add spinach and a few tbsp of stock or water to it - and SALT - and cook briefly. Sometimes I throw in a stalk of rosemary too, but remove it before serving. I would certainly add some salt to the spinach, and if you are cooking garlic with it be very careful not to over-cook or burn it as burned garlic will definitely give you a bad aftertaste. If I were using garlic I'd warm it just slightly in the oil until it smells fragrant before adding spinach.

Katy said...

I've never had any luck with polenta until I found this from Russ Parsons LA Times Food Guru. I hope it's okay for me to post it here:

Perfect baked polenta

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Servings: 6

8 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups polenta

2 to 3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a 3- to 4-quart oven-proof pot, combine the water, salt, polenta and butter. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Stir polenta and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the grated cheese. Set aside 5 minutes to rest before serving.

2. To serve, spoon the polenta into each of 6 warmed shallow pasta bowls. Serve immediately.

Each servings: 221 calories; 5 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 13 mg. cholesterol; 0 sugar; 465 mg. sodium.

Val said...

Maybe add a dab of soy sauce rather than water to the spinach, since it will be losing so much water anyway? Or you could just blanch the spinach in salt water, mix with a wee bit of soy sauce and a drop or two of Worcester, and then fry the egg in the garlic and red pepper oil. Also if you have any roasted garlic handy, roughly chopping that up and putting it in the polenta near the very end of its cooking time would be tasty.

Rick said...

Chicken stock instead of water. Also, you could render some pancetta for the oil to wilt the spinach or fry the egg and then add the pancetta to the polenta. Homemade versions of stock and pancetta take it to another level.

Kris said...

Man, this is great. Thank you, everybody.

So far, I'm definitely skipping the milk, subbing in broth, and upping the quantity. Then, I'm sauteing (not steaming) the spinach (or keeping it raw), possibly in pancetta oil. Breadcrumbs, 'shrooms, and roasted garlic are also possibilities.

What about the egg, you guys? Is frying a good way to go? I was considering poaching (for more moisture), but that wouldn't do anything for texture.

anotheryarn said...

I agree wrt the water and polenta ratio. My go to recipe has 4:1 water:polenta ratio and cooks on low for about 30 minutes. Around 20 minutes it seems to have absorbed the water but is vaguely raw tasting. Also it needs a pat of butter stirred in before serving. And salt -either start with stock or salt the water.

I also agree the spinach is being cooked too long. But if you are looking for more textural variety you are using the wrong dark leafy green. Chard would do much better here, you can saute the stems before adding the chopped leaves and that will also help.

I actually had this meal last night (using chard, minus the egg and parm + gorgonzola).

biankat said...

For my polenta I also use a 4:1 liquid to corn ratio. My liquid is half broth, half (skim) milk. Definintely sautee the spinach as opposed to steam. And finally, I poach my eggs as opposed to frying. Last week I even broiled some proscuitto slices to place on top of the polenta for a italian benedict type of meal. Delicious!

wosnes said...

I use 4 parts water to 1 part polenta. I also add butter at the end. I'd either leave the spinach raw or use a different green.


What I do is mix in cheddar cheese and a bit of garlic, salt, pepper to the polenta. Bake it on a cookie sheet.

Then line muffin cups with very thin slices of ham; stuff some spinach in the cups (on top of the ham slices) - then put an egg on each - bake at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes.

During that 15 minutes, the polenta cools; then cut it out with a cookie cutter - use it as a base to put the 'muffins' on, and servie with some salsa on the side and a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top of the egg/ham/spinach.

Good for breakfast/lunch/dinner.

Katie said...

I use vegetable or chicken broth to cook polenta, and I usually make more than one serving. Making just one serving seems to cook too fast, leaving it dry.

I'd throw a few mushrooms in with the spinach. THey pack some serious flavor. If that's a no-go, add in tons more garlic. Can't go wrong with more garlic.

Rachel said...

Polenta really needs to be cooked thoroughly; with the single serving, rapid evaporation may be throwing the usual water/polenta ratios off. Try adding extra liquid and taste carefully for no lingering raw, sandy bite.
Also, in addition to the broth and pat of butter suggestions, which I heartily endorse, you could saute the allium of you choice in the polenta pot. Dropping the raw spinach on top of the hot polenta should wilt it like a charm(I do this to a braised sausage/spinach/polenta dish that is a family favorite)except again, with the single serving, you may not be packing as many BTU's as a full platter.
Another idea might be to spread the polenta in a baking dish, top with raw, shredded spinach and make "nests" in the polenta for the raw eggs, which you could then bake until they are as done as you like.The dry heat should bake off the excess spinach liquid.

LaDonna said...

I second the suggestion to sub kale for the spinach. I find spinach has a weird aftertaste, raw or cooked. I don't mind it, per se, but if it's bothering you, kale might be worth a try.

Anonymous said...

I add a wee bit of heavy cream to my spinach cooking liquid. Or sour cream. Also sauteed onion and a bit of sauteed bacon (half a strip or so, maybe less) is good in spinach.

JohnB said...

I just tried it this way...

I made polenta with 3 parts chicken stock, mixed in some frozen spinach when the polenta was almost done, and added some crispy bacon at the end with the egg.

Turned out pretty well, though I overcooked the egg a bit.

Deeds said...

I'm just itching to toss a smidgen of soy sauce and some mandarin orange in with the spinach to enhance the flavor and give the dish a little color... maybe even a few broken pecan pieces. I agree with others that the amount of polenta just needs to be cut back a bit to get rid of the dryness. Good luck!

Mary Joy said...

Great site.

Dana said...

Add some mushrooms with the spinach - they go great together and will maybe help with the weird flavor you are having? In my opinion mushrooms make everything better.

Elizabeth said...

I'm planning on trying a similar recipe tonight for the first time. It's from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, titled "Baked Eggs with Spinach." (BTW, the entire book is now available as an iPhone app for $1.99. I'm in love!) The spinach is blanched for 1", then placed in a buttered dish and the eggs nestled on top. The whole thing is baked about 15", with a little cheese and bread crumbs on top. I think that this might be an alternative way of doing the eggs. Instead of polenta, it's to be served on homemade bread.

I did you one better, Kris, and found 2 local farms selling eggs. The yolks are neon orange. Can't wait to try this for dinner!

Sassy Molassy said...

Scramble the egg with the spinach and top it all with a little spicy tomato/marinara sauce.

Add a tsp of butter to the polenta when it comes off the heat.

Rebecca said...

I agree with Diane's about the ratio required for polenta (4:1). I make it all the time and season it with salt, pepper & butter as you cook it. Some folk insist on white pepper just so you don't have little black flecks in your polenta.

Try replacing the milk & water for the polenta with your favorite broth. The base of the milk may be off-putting with the spinach. Alternately, try using baby spinach - with its milder taste it might work better.

'nthing what was said above in not cooking your spinach. Toss it in at the very end and just turn it in the spices to coat before layering it over the polenta; between the heat of the pan and the egg on top - it should just barely wilt as you serve it.