As runners, we’re always on the look out for recipe ideas that pack lots of nutrition without sacrificing our love of savory goodness. This recipe was inspired by a local side dish from one of our favorite restaurants, but we decided to make it into a complete and filling meal. Creamy polenta is topped with caramelized fennel, roasted veggies and savory chickpeas. Oh, and a few dollops of delicious goat cheese! This meal is a fall favorite of ours and we’re sure it will be one of yours too!
Polenta is versatile fare made from cornmeal that can be used differently based on its preparation. In this recipe, we make a creamy polenta mixture involving broth, goat cheese and a little bit of tomato paste. This provides the base of the meal and is savoriest porridge you’ll ever experience!
Before getting ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about caramelized fennel. Yep, that’s right, fennel. That highly aromatic, hardy perennial herb that makes you think of old world stews. You know, that plant you’ve never used to cook with before (okay, maybe some of you have, but you’re a rarity in our neck of the woods). Fennel has a sharp, anise like flavor that leaves one wondering what the heck you would ever do with it! At least, this was my reaction before trying it caramelized. Mairead has certainly tried such foodstuffs growing up in her father’s kitchen, but this Midwesterner hardly knew such things existed before moving to Boulder. Once you mellow out the flavor by cooking the chopped bulb in butter over low heat this becomes a delight!
One of the advantages of coupling a meal with roasted vegetables is there is no need to get specific with your veggie combos. We’ve chosen to go the root vegetable route for this recipe, but we can certainly imagine this portion of the recipe involving peppers or squash. Spread roughly chopped chunks of vegetables of your choice (we went with carrots, a turnip, and whole grape tomatoes), drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. We roasted at 450 degrees for around 45 minutes, but roast your veggies to your personal preference (a little char never hurt anyone 😉 ). Be sure to intermittently check the veggies and give the bakeware a shake to ensure that produce roasts evenly!
How about some veggie protein to complete the dish? We spread two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas onto a baking sheet, drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with cayenne pepper. The chickpeas were roasted in the same oven as the veggies, but for only about half the time. They’re done when the outsides of the legume is nice and crispy. These little guys round out this meal nicely. Plus, do this can be done any time for a delicious snack!
While we’re at it, lets not forget some dark leafy greens. Once all the other items have come together, saute garlic in olive oil (or butter if you’re feeling up to it!) over medium heat for about a minute. Add spinach and stir frequently while it wilts. Season with coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
Creamy Polenta With Caramelized Fennel and Roasted Veggies
The perfect dish for chilly fall days!
-(2 cups) Polenta, rinsed
-(8 cups) Broth (you can trade out some of the broth with water depending on taste and broth saltiness)
-(80z package) Soft goat cheese
-(2) Fennel bulbs sliced to pieces!
-(4 or 5) Medium carrots cut into chunks
-(1) Large turnip cut into chunks
-(8oz package) Grape tomatoes, halved
-(2, 15oz cans) Chickpeas, rinsed and dried
-(9oz package) Spinach
-(1 T.) Minced garlic
-(3 T.) Butter
-(1/2 t.) Cayenne pepper
-Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit
Melt butter on low heat in large skillet. Add sliced fennel- this will caramelize slowly while the other items are prepared, keep an eye on this and stir occasionally.
Drizzle the carrots, turnip and grape tomatoes with about 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Toss to coat and spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in the oven. These will roast 30 to 45 minutes- check on these guys and give ‘em a shake every 7 to 10 minutes to ensure they get roasty on all sides.
In a large pot, bring the 8 cups of broth or broth-water mixture to a boil. Whisk in the 2 cups of polenta and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover with a lid and cook until thick (about 30 to 40 minutes). Be sure to stir the polenta occasionally as it will want to stick to the sides.
While the polenta is cooking, spread the chickpeas on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with cayenne pepper. Shake to coat evenly and place in the oven as well. Roast these for 15 to 20 minutes. Shake these a couple of times throughout their cooking time- aim for a slightly crispy outside while not letting the inside get to dry.
When the polenta is done, stir in half of the package of goat cheese until mixed through completely. Turn off heat and cover to keep warm.
If the veggies and chickpeas are done, turn off the oven, but leave these items in there to keep them warm. The fennel may be nearing a stopping point, but continue to let it caramelize until the end.
In a medium skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the package of spinach and cook until wilted. This may have to be done a few handfuls at a time depending on the size of your skillet, but it will all wilt quickly otherwise. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Serve about a cup of the polenta in a medium bowl. Cover with the fennel, wilted spinach, and roasted veggies in thirds. Top with chickpeas and a few small globs of goat cheese.