This pumpkin polenta makes a great lunch with a salad. It warmed me up on a chilly day, and stayed with me all afternoon.
I made this with a terrific Apple and Feta Topping, but my husband, a confirmed carnivore, likes this with some meat. When he first tried it, he really liked it but said it needed some good stuff. Thinking he meant some cream or cheese, I asked what he thought I should add. His response: Meat, and lots of it....
So, if you're looking for something more hearty, you can take a more 'wimpy vegetarian' approach and serve this with roast chicken, pork or top it with a brisket stew. Me? I thought it was perfect with the Apple Feta Crumble :-)
Some tips on making polenta:
1) Polenta is famous for its tendency to thicken and can be made to a variety of consistencies ranging from firm to soft. General rule of thumb for firm polenta (aka very, very thick), use 1 part polenta to 3-4 parts liquid; for soft polenta, use 1 part polenta to 6-8 parts liquid.
2) Polenta comes in fine, medium and coarse grain. The finer the grain, the less creamy it will be, so I tend to use medium or coarse grain with the later being my favorite for a creamy polenta like this recipe.
3) Polenta thickens over time and should be served immediately. Ideally, get everything else ready and kept warm until the polenta can be served. If this isn't possible, and the polenta must sit on the stove for a bit, it's best to keep it warm in a hot water bath, if possible. Alternatively, you can ladle in some hot liquid just before serving and stir to allow the polenta to absorb it.
4) Tips for a creamier polenta: 1) use a coarser grain polenta; 2) add fat at the end in the form of milk, cream, butter, and/or cheese; or 3) add a pinch of baking soda. Be careful with the baking soda, as more than a pinch can turn the polenta to mush, which isn't quite as attractive as creamy :-) . Even creamy polenta should have a mouthfeel of some of the texture of the grain. Also, be aware that the addition of even a pinch of baking soda will speed the cooking.
5) If making your own vegetable broth, this would be a great one to add chunks of pumpkin to, and/or stripped corn cobs to increase the pumpkin and/or corn flavors.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the balsamic vinegar.
Cook until the apples and onions soften and become slightly golden (about 15 minutes). Add the splash of balsamic vinegar and stir for 1 minute.
Set aside until the polenta is ready. Spoon some of the warm crumble on the polenta.
Creamy Pumpkin Polenta
Bring 4 cups of the vegetable stock to a simmer with the butter. Add the polenta and stir the polenta thoroughly.
Once the polenta begins to thicken (about 5 minutes), reduce the heat to low and add the pumpkin purée and apple cider. Continue to stir. Once the polenta has considerably thickened (after about 15 minutes), add the cream cheese, cream, salt and allspice.
Ladle additional hot stock into the polenta as needed for the consistency you prefer. I used a total of 5 cups of broth, but the amount will depend on the age of the grain, the heat of the stove, and the coarseness of the grain.