11 February, 2011
Let’s do lunch…Comments : 1 Posted in : Lunch on a Plate on by : Lauri Tags: cheap, easy, easy recipe, eating out less, food finance, goat cheese, healthy food, healthy lunch, home cooking, home-based, how to cook, marinara, polenta, spinach, ten minutes or less
For those of you just tuning in, there’s been quite a bit of experimentation along the path toward Shoestring Eats. We’re finally in our permanent home, with a new layout, and I’m in the process of uploading and reformatting previous posts so you can see (and hopefully enjoy) some of the things I’ve tried in the past. But we’re pretty much ready to roll, and I look forward to sharing ideas with you and hearing what works (and doesn’t) in your kitchens.
First up, a new category, “Lunch on a Plate” which is a simple voyeuristic peek into what I made for myself today. Don’t be distracted by the fact that I work at home, and may have a better “break room” than you do: everything in this category can be eaten for dinner, packed up in your favorite version of the brown bag, and for those of you who work in an office, many things can be prepared with just a few tools you can keep in your desk. See “The Office Lunch Kit” for ideas on how to be prepared and eat better meals at work. (Your co-workers will be so jealous!!)
Today’s dish: Polenta. I love this cornmeal basic for its satisfying texture and comfort-food goodness. It’s cheap, fast, very versatile and unusual enough to surprise guests as an appetizer. But for lunch, I like it simple: prepared polenta slices (about the size of a crab cake), fried in a few drops of olive oil, topped with marinara, wilted spinach and dots of goat cheese. It’s a happy day, and there’s no way a burger is better, cheaper or easier than this.
Polenta is remarkably nutritious, and easier to find than ever: grocery stores like Fresh and Easy, Trader Joe’s and even specialty stores like Cost Plus World Market sell it in plastic tubes, ready to slice, heat and eat. Many Americans recognize it as “corn mush”, to be stirred and moistened until it’s smoother, a cereal similar to grits, a homey breakfast staple that can be served savory with butter and dill, or sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup. Some cooks will slice it more thinly and use it in layered casseroles, e.g. instead of lasagna noodles. I prefer it fried (it takes very little fat), with marinara sauce, sautéed veggies and something creamy — today’s version is the easiest possible incarnation of that formula:
- Slice off the end of the tube and remove the end from the plastic. Pulling the plastic down as you go, cut off slices 1/2 inch thick, setting aside. Served as an entree, each tube serves 2-3 fairly hungry people. Store leftovers in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator: it’ll keep for about a week, but use it quickly.
- Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Lay polenta slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan — when the color starts to brighten about halfway up the sides of each slice, flip each piece carefully with a spatula. (This will only take a minute or two.)
- Pour about 3/4 cup marinara sauce over the top of the slices (no need to measure: just add until it looks right to you). The sauce will fall down into the pan and cook nicely.
- Drop a handful of roughly sliced spinach leaves over the top and spread it out. When the spinach has started to wilt (but before it cooks), flip each polenta slice onto a plate: this leaves some spinach and sauce underneath the polenta. Once the slices have been transferred, spread remaining sauce and spinach from the pan on top of the slices.
- Dot the top with bits of goat cheese.
- Grab a fork and enjoy.
- Veggies: I particularly like the softness of polenta with the crunch of lightly sautéed broccoli or asparagus, even shredded carrots.
- Fancier sauté: If you have an extra three minutes, sauté some thin onion slices and brown mushrooms, even some capers, in the oil first, add marinara and mix, then make room for the polenta slices and cook them in the sauce.
- Cheese: If goat cheese isn’t your thing, feta or parmesan (the kind that doesn’t come in a can) are equally good. You might even skip the cheese and add a dollop of Greek-style yogurt: find something creamy and tangy that you love, and see how it works.
Look for polenta tubes the next time you’re out, and play a bit: you may find yourself adding it to your Staples List.
Prep/cooking time: about 5 minutes
Calories: 450* for 5 slices with trimmings
Cost: About $3
Cleanup: One pan, one spatula, one knife, one plate, one fork (2 min. tops)
*Calories calculated with the help of CalorieKing.com‘s simply awesome food database.