Eat Lunch Like You're at a Fancy Italian Restaurant (from Your Desk)

October 13, 2015

Creamy polenta might not seems like a smart thing to stuff in a mason jar or tiffin, but it can make a desk lunch that's just as easy-breezy as your old PB&J routine—so long as you know how to reassemble it (and its sundry toppings) gracefully in the office.

Below are my desk-tested tricks.

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Here's how to turn your desk into a fancy Italian restaurant:

Cook too much dinner (a good Not Sad Desk Lunch rule in general). Make an extra-large pot of polenta. I started with a rough 1 to 2 ratio of medium-grind cornmeal to water, simmered, and added milk every time it seemed to get too thick. I stirred only occasionally and kept tasting until the grains were soft and no longer tasted bitter, which took close to an hour.

At the same time I braised a whole bunch of broccoli rabe in a lot of olive oil, splashes of water, smashed garlic, and chile flakes until the green stalks collapsed, slipping in one anchovy fillet after another until it was the perfect balance of bitter, salty, spicy, and savory. Though I am not from the South, and neither is oil-braised broccoli rabe, I finally feel like I understand potlikker, the rich, green slick in the bottom of the pan that makes cooks get poetic.  


A photo posted by Kristen Miglore (@miglorious) on

 Kristen's polenta with broccoli rabe.

The next day, assemble your lunch! Carry the leftover polenta and rabe (or other veg, or ragu, or porchetta if you're very lucky) in separate, well-sealed containers. The polenta will have solidified into a rubbery brick in the fridge, and will need to be reheated with more water and a few vigorous stirs, either on the stovetop or in the microwave. The rabe can be heated too, or left at room temperature. Drape it over the polenta. Form little wells to catch the potlikker, lest it go spilling across the plate.

What are some of your favorite polenta toppings? Are you a potlikker veteran? Tell us in the comments below!

Photo by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SpinachInquisition
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  • Leslie Stephens
    Leslie Stephens
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


SpinachInquisition October 13, 2015
I made the decision not to fight the "rubbery brick" a long time ago, so now Polenta Day 2 (TM) is always based on slicing and frying it up. I can never get it back to that silky goodness from Day 1, so why not just concede defeat and handle that starchy puck how it wants to be treated? Plus: tasty breakfast treat w/maple syrup in the AM.
Riddley G. October 13, 2015
Marcella's tomato sauce or (when I'm feeling sassy) toasted and chopped hazelnuts, honey, gorgonzola, fried sage.
Leslie S. October 13, 2015
TBH when are you not feeling sassy Riddley?
Riddley G. October 13, 2015
they (and I mean only myself) call me sassy pants for a reason!