Corn

Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

August  1, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Polenta that makes the most of August.

Polenta

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If you're ever getting bored with what you think vegetables can do, turn to Plenty.

It's finally that point in summer where we're rifling around for inspiration; the tomato rounds laid out with salt and pepper, the simplest barely-cooked corn on the cob -- oh, they're still good, but how many times have we had them now?

corn!

Corn  Tomatoes

Plenty is the answer. Much like the vibrant food served at Yotam Ottolenghi's bar-raising takeaway restaurants in London, but drawn from his lively (mostly) vegetarian columns in The Guardian, these are idea-driven restaurant recipes written for home cooks.

Yotam Ottolenghi  Plenty

Of course you already know all this. Plenty nearly won the 2011 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks, surviving serious decisions by Gabrielle Hamilton, Peter Kaminsky, and Christine Muhlke. It's also one of the newest volumes to have made it into your top 10 cookbooks, placed alongside reference library tomes like Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The Ottolenghi mission is this: "Our favourite ingredients are of this 'noisy' type: lemon, pomegranate, garlic, chilli." Noise, unceremoniously delivered, could overwhelm all that's good in a vegetable. But applied with a steady hand, noise can make them dance and sing. (We have arielleclementine -- a cook with just-noisy-enough recipes herself -- to thank for pointing us to this recipe.)  

oregano

Here, the noise comes in the form of feta, oregano, white wine, and tomato paste, nestled in among sweet corn, fresh tomato, and eggplant -- everything that's in season right this second -- to set them alight.

The conceit is similar to a wintry ragu over traditional creamy polenta, but this being summer, it's instead full of young, spry ingredients, so you don't have to wait (or warm the kitchen) nearly as long.

In its entirety, this is a recipe that works and is really, really good. (In the name of the Piglet, Peter Kaminsky served it to three sets of guests, always to raves.) But it's also full of ideas you can parcel out as you see fit.

fresh corn polenta

First: Polenta doesn't have to be born out of dry goods. Fresh corn, cooked quickly, breaks down to a sweet soup in the food processor. (According to tipster jbban, the process in reverse is just as genius, and becomes corn butter -- see Whitney Chen's recent post on Gilt Taste).

Second: A natural mate for corn's Sandra Dee sweetness? Salty, briny feta -- the Danny Zuko of cheeses.

Third: Seriously, this eggplant sauce is good on anything.

eggplant sauce

frying eggplant  eggplant

Fourth: Unlike tomatoes or corn, eggplant is picky. If you mess it up, you get surly mouthfuls that are spongy and chewy. Here, you fry it quickly in more oil than you think you should, then drain most of the oil away. The eggplant melts. If you're a Tamar Adler disciple, you'll save the oil to fry your eggs or lamb chops in tomorrow.

Make this tonight. Then go back to basics tomorrow. Repeat, till summer is done.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

Adapted very slightly from Plenty (Chronicle Books, 2011)

Serves 4

Eggplant Sauce:

2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 1/2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano


Polenta:

6 ears of corn
2 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons butter, diced
7 ounces feta, crumbled
1/4 tsp salt
Black pepper


See the full recipe (and save and print it here).

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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31 Comments

Melody September 13, 2014
Very successful recipe... Turned out great at our house.... perfect for a last week summer dish to wrap up all that summer produce. We served it with a curry pork sausage and it was great with fresh basil and 25 year old balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top ... will definitely make again
 
Reneesworld September 9, 2013
I made this tonight! Brilliant! Thank you for this simple and pure use of seasonal vegetables. I served it with much less feta and cooked in about 1/2 of the oil and butter. That said, I drizzled the remaining oil over cornmeal/Panko breaded halibut filets that I roasted.
 
ibbeachnana August 5, 2013
For the most part this was a fantastic recipe, but for me just too salty. If I make it again, and I will, I will certainly cut way back on the Feta or go for another cheese and less of it altogether.
 
tangerine19 January 18, 2013
would it be at all possible to make this in the winter with high quality frozen corn?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 3, 2013
tangerine19, I'm sorry for not seeing this sooner -- I think that some cooks on Food52 have done this with good results, but I haven't tried it myself!
 
joyce.ciotti August 31, 2012
Polanta Problems? It is a stir & stir over a hot stove for a lonnnnnnnng time- otherwise a pot of cornmeal soup is all one makes. When I married into an Italian family, my sister-in-law was extremely excited to actually hand over the "Polanta Paddle". The youngest woman was assigned Polanta duty. Since I married the youngest, I was doomed. I only escaped by moving from NY to CA. The duty now revolves around nieces. Maybe the refrigerated (already made) polenta is an alternative.
 
samanthaalison August 30, 2012
I love this recipe. I have the book and we've made it twice so far this summer. The first time it was really liquid-y and took a long time to cook down, so the second time we halved the liquid to start and added only part of it back in as needed. I looooove it though.
 
taffeta August 22, 2012
I made this dish last night for a particularly foodie group. It was a major hit. Unbelievably rich and so delicious. <br />Bravo Yotam. I will make it again and again! <br />Many thanks.
 
mike1213 August 21, 2012
I loved the eggplant part and was unsure of the fresh corn polenta, although that might have been my fault. I bought the corn at the greenmarket on Saturday morning, but did not make the polenta until Tuesday night. I am sure that I lost sweetness and tenderness in the corn by not making it on Saturday. I will try this recipe again
 
kaitlin.c August 8, 2012
I found that some of the amounts were way off in the recipe. I weighed my corn kernels and had more like 2 1/2 lbs. from 6 ears, not 1 1/4. My ears were on the large side, but I can't imagine how small they'd have to be to yield only 1 1/4 lbs. Secondly, since I had so much corn, I increased the water to ~4 cups. After pureeing, my corn was so liquidy that I returned it to the pot without any of the cooking liquid and it took a full HOUR of simmering to thicken to the point of being edible. <br /> <br />Up until the point when it took quadruple the time expected to cook the polenta, everything else came to gether quickly and easily. I decreased both the butter and cheese a bit, and it turned out delicious, and was great and unique way to use fresh summer corn, eggplant, and tomatoes. I'll definitely make it again, although with some major adjustments next time.
 
joyce.ciotti August 6, 2012
You have my promise that our first eggplant from the garden is destined for this recipe. Can't wait!
 
joyce.ciotti August 31, 2012
Polanta Problems? It is a stir & stir over a hot stove for a lonnnnnnnng time- otherwise a pot of cornmeal soup is all one makes. When I married into an Italian family, my sister-in-law was extremely excited to actually hand over the "Polanta Paddle". The youngest woman was assigned Polanta duty. Since I married the youngest, I was doomed. I only escaped by moving from NY to CA. The duty now revolves around nieces. Maybe the refrigerated (already made) polenta is an alternative.
 
samanthaalison August 31, 2012
This recipe is not for cornmeal based polenta, but for polenta made from fresh sweet corn.
 
Jendayton August 5, 2012
Am I the only one who ended up with a pot of corn water? I killed 6 beautiful ears of local corn on this. And I followed the recipe religiously. The eggplant is lovely but the polenta? It's not polenta. It's where corn goes to die.
 
Luciemom August 6, 2012
I think I added about 1/2-3/4 the amount of water to start -- I had increased the recipe less than precisely! I did have to add maybe 1-2T of dried polenta, but then it was perfect.
 
kaitlin.c August 8, 2012
You are not alone! I didn't add back any of the cooking liquid after pureeing and it still had to cook down for an hour afterwards to thicken. It was tasty, but the ratio of corn/water in the recipe is definitely off.
 
sarajane August 12, 2012
I should have just left the corn as-is after I blended it in my VitaMix... spent a loooong time cooking it down and then, finally, straining it at the end. After that, all was well and the flavors were fantastic! A good lesson in using my own judgment instead of blindly following directions.
 
joyce.ciotti August 31, 2012
Polanta Problems? It is a stir & stir over a hot stove for a lonnnnnnnng time- otherwise a pot of cornmeal soup is all one makes. When I married into an Italian family, my sister-in-law was extremely excited to actually hand over the "Polanta Paddle". The youngest woman was assigned Polanta duty. Since I married the youngest, I was doomed. I only escaped by moving from NY to CA. The duty now revolves around nieces. Maybe the refrigerated (already made) polenta is an alternative.
 
Luciemom August 5, 2012
I made this last night and everyone went crazy with delight! Of course I had to tweak the recipe a little: instead of just using water to simmer the corn, I made a broth with the corn cobs. I probably used 1/2 the amount of feta and really didn't need the butter. I had made ratatouille the day before, so I took some of the juice and cooked it down with a little tomato paste, wine & a pinch of sugar and mixed in back in to get the thicker sauce. It was fabulous.
 
chefpatty August 3, 2012
The sauce is a perfect use of all the vegetables at the farmers markets. The polenta was a little thin so I stirred in 1/3 cup instant polenta and it was delicious. Our local corn is small this year because of the dought. Next time I'll cook an extra ear or two. Great recipes.
 
pierino August 1, 2012
Unfortunately "plenty" is most likely the worst adjective to describe corn right now. Corn is in economic terms, the single largest and most important crop that America produces. The summer drought has been devastating, and this trickles down through the entire food supply chain affecting everything from beef to bottled salad dressing. In the futures market corn is going for $8.20 a bushel close to an all time high. The impact won't be fully felt until the autumn.
 
arielleclementine August 1, 2012
oh hooray!! thanks for sharing this gorgeous recipe! when i first made it, my husband and i each took one bite, looked at each other, and said 'wow'. it's so wonderful! thanks, Kristen!
 
JanieMac August 1, 2012
Can't wait to try - it has everything I love in it, and fresh!
 
azk209 August 1, 2012
Is there any way to make this recipe dairy-free???
 
jbban August 1, 2012
The feta is an embellishment for the polenta, but you can certainly omit it.
 
azk209 August 2, 2012
Thanks! I will be trying it tonight.
 
Panfusine August 1, 2012
just reading this is making me Weak in the knees!
 
alasully August 1, 2012
Kristen, you're curing my corn & eggplant fever (or fueling it further...). Pumped to try this.
 
AntoniaJames August 1, 2012
Wow, this looks great! I've been putting feta into our favorite corn - tomato - fresh herbs - vinaigrette-dressed salad all summer, for just the reason stated above. Am always looking for interesting new applications for eggplant, as well. I'll be making this on market day! ;o)