I feel like polenta is often forgotten when meal planning and I don’t know why. It is so good and relatively easy to make. I started developing this recipe years ago for my first food blog venture. Since then, I have made it many times and it has proven to be a crowd favorite. It is light, even with all the bacon and butter, yet tremendously satisfying. I’m also not sure if ragu is the right word for the vegetable mixture in this recipe but it seemed to convey the rich flavor and saucy texture of the vegetables when they are cooked. If there is another word for this type of vegetable mixture, definitely let me know. The whole dish comes together pretty easily, yet looks (and tastes) fancy (hello date night!). I hope you try it and let me know what you think ☺
Polenta with bacon and caramelized onion vegetable ragu (Serves 4-5)
3 C water
½ t salt plus more to taste if needed
1 cup polenta (I used this)
3/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 T unsalted butter
4-5 slices of bacon cut into small bits
1 large onion
4-5 T unsalted butter
2 medium zucchinis
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the polenta
Sauté bacon bits in a pan until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
Grease a loaf pan with olive oil. I happen to have a small casserole/loaf pan that just fits the amount of polenta made in this recipe but I think you could use almost any shape container as long as it isn’t too wide or tall. The idea is to create a solid block of polenta that can be cut into separate serving portions.
Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium stock pot. Slowly add the polenta to the boiling water, stirring all the time. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook polenta for approximately 30 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. (Note: this is what the package said. My stove runs very hot at the lowest temp so I ended up only cooking the polenta for about 15 minutes). The mixture will be thick and sticky. Stir in the butter, parmesan and bacon. Add additional salt to taste. Scoop polenta mixture into the greased loaf pan and pat it down/smooth it out to fill the edges so you have an even “loaf” of polenta. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and set aside to cool.
Make the vegetable ragu
Slice the zucchini into thin rounds. I used the little slicer on the side of my cheese grater, but you can use a mandolin or other slicer. Set aside.
Cut onion in half lengthwise then slice into half circles.
I once read that it is important to use unsalted butter when you are caramelizing onions because the salt interferes with the caramelization process, so that’s what I do and it seems to work well. Melt 2 T unsalted butter in a medium stock pot over low heat. Add the onion and toss to coat. Add the remaining butter. Keep cooking the onion over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns golden brown (and smells caramelly). This can take a little while, but be sure to keep the heat low. You don’t want to burn the onion before it caramelizes. You can add more unsalted butter if it seems like the onion is sticking to the pan.
Once the onion is caramelized, add the zucchini to the pot and stir to coat with onions. Saute for a minute or two then add the can of tomatoes and mix to combine mixture. Simmer over low heat until the zucchini is just cooked through. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Turn out the polenta loaf onto a cutting board. Divided into four-five even servings. The shape will be dependent on the shape of your container. I used two slices per serving. Arrange your slices of polenta on a plate and top with the warm vegetable mixture. Garnish with some flakes of parmesan and a sprig of basil if you like. Enjoy!
I had mine with a glass of rosé and I wasn’t upset ☺ This dish reheats very well, and I’m saying this as a person who doesn’t love leftovers. It is also versatile. If vegetables aren’t your thing, or you don’t have time to make the ragu, you can serve the polenta it with a simple red sauce. I was cooking with vegetable-averse person in mind when I made this, so I just reserved some of the caramelized onions for her (before adding the zucchini and tomato) and she ate them on top of the polenta with some parmesan cheese. One final note: If you want to take this dish a step further you can bake the polenta after you take it out of the loaf pan. Just cut it in to desired portions, place on a lightly greased baking sheet, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees until slightly crispy and lightly browned.