December 7, 2019

A Vegetarian Meal That Won’t Make You Miss Meat

The word on the street is that polenta must be stirred constantly while it cooks, similar to risotto. There are even automatic polenta stirrers made in Italy to alleviate the monotony of the task. For $165, plus $60 shipping, you can get a bronze automatic polenta maker delivered to your doorstep. 

But you can make polenta without stirring constantly. You just need to stir it every 10 minutes to get a lump-free, creamy polenta, and even for the luxurious folks out there (read: lazy), that’s doable.

Here’s a vegetarian ragù that won’t make you miss meat. It’s hearty and deeply satisfying. But what takes it over the top is the sweet and tangy red wine reduction stirred in at the end. Simmer red wine with onion, thyme and a cinnamon stick. Finish it with a grated truffle sheep’s milk cheese — because my cooking students really like cheese and truffles. 

The first time making this, in order to get the timing right and to be relaxed while cooking, I recommend getting the ragù done first before starting the polenta, and reheating it when you’re ready for it.

No-Stir Polenta with Lentil Ragù

with wine reduction and truffle cheese, from “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen”

Wine reduction sauce:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon raw honey
1 stick cinnamon
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme

Lentil ragù:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 pound portobello mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
(or 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and halved)
1 bunch chard, bottom stems removed
and cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 cup French green lentils, cooked (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
10 to 20 grinds of the pepper mill
Wine reduction sauce (recipe below) 

Polenta:

4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 scant cup polenta or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
4 ounces Moliterno al Tartuffo (or another truffle cheese)

For the wine reduction sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, sauté onions in butter until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.

Add carrot and celery and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the wine, 1/2 cup of water, and whisk in honey. Add cinnamon and thyme.

Reduce mixture until there is about 1/4 cup of liquid. Let cool.

Remove the carrot, celery, cinnamon and thyme.

For the lentil ragù:

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes.

Add the olive oil followed by the onion, and cook without much stirring until you see dark brown spots form on the edges, 7 to 10 minutes.

Lower heat to medium and continue to cook until onion is caramelized, another 7 to 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms, stir and sauté for a few minutes.

Add chard, stir and sauté until it wilts.

Add cooked lentils along with any remaining cooking water, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

Add salt and pepper, and cook until the mushrooms and chard are tender.

Add wine-reduction sauce and stir to combine.

For the polenta:

In a medium saucepan fitted with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt.

Add the polenta slowly, whisking the entire time to prevent lumps. After all the polenta has been added, reduce heat to low and whisk for two minutes. Cover. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes have passed, uncover polenta and whisk for one minute. Reset your timer for 10 minutes. Continue the process, being sure to scrape the sides and corners of the pan. Switch to a wooden spoon after the polenta has thickened. After the polenta has cooked for about 45 minutes, remove from the heat.

Stir in the butter and Parmigiano. Taste and adjust salt, if needed. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with the lentil ragù and shaved truffle cheese.

Serves 4 to 6. 

Note: To make the one cup of lentils, I cook lentils in a rice cooker using 1/2 cup of water for 1/4 cup lentils. Lentils also can be cooked on a stovetop, using 3/4 cup of water for 1/4 cup of dry lentils. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes.


Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen” and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.