Monday, January 2, 2012

Polenta for the next generation: corn-free.

Gluten-free and Corn-free Millet Polenta with Pecorino and Goat's Cheese

Corn. It is a hot topic in the food world at the moment. The astounding vegetable has come along way since its discovery. The versatile crop has seeped into nearly every packaged food known to man in its various incarnations. With its widespread popularity, thanks to its astonishing versatility, comes equal amounts of hatred. Many people have developed serious corn allergies in recent years. This is due to corn's omnipresence in packaged foods and its over-processed nature. In that way it is very similar to soy; another vegetable crop that has dominated the food world. 

On a personal note, I do not have a corn allergy but I do avoid it whenever possible. I try to steer clear of GM crops in my personal consumption. But, as I have noted above, corn is a difficult substance to avoid these days. Whether its corn starch thickening your prepared mustard or corn syrup stabilizing the salad dressing on your mixed greens, corn has become nearly impossible to avoid. It is in this way that corn and soy are similar. They are as cheap and plentiful and their uses and forms are myriad. As a result they are used everywhere possible. I developed an allergy to soy a couple of years ago when my immune system was compromised by bad seasonal asthma. At the time I was consuming a lot of packaged dressing and sauces, and was a soy-loving vegetarian. Soy was present in almost every meal that I ate. I have no strong evidence, but a strong suspicion that my soy allergy cropped up as a result of over-consumption. Why do I think so? Its not uncommon for people who eat the same foods day in day out to develop allergies and sensitivities to those foods. The rest of my evidence centers around the fact that all the other allergies which I developed at that time were also to foods that I consumed very frequently: tree-nuts; strong herbs; and apples. 

So what does one do when they become allergic to their favorite foods? Well, after the good cry, I pulled myself together and revamped my entire diet. I stopped eating packaged foods. I stopped eating nuts. I swapped apples for pears. I gave up sushi. It was a thoroughly traumatic period in my life, and no, I'm not exaggerating. Since my longstanding offending food detox (I avoided the foods for over a year), my immune system has recovered and I have lost most of my allergies and have been able to gradually reintroduce the foods one by one into my diet.

So, if anyone reading this can relate to it -- my condolences. It is terribly frustrating to become allergic to foods that you love. It is also frustrating to be allergic to soy or corn -- they are in everything! It makes eating out nearly impossible and you can pretty much forget about 'convenient' foods altogether as nearly everything packaged contains some form of corn and soy. I will do my best to offer you great soy and corn-free recipes on this blog for the foods you may be missing most of all!

On that note, its time to start 2012 with a recipe that is innovative, hearty and comforting. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you CORN-FREE POLENTA! This dish is still GLUTEN-FREE.
Millet grits transforming into polenta

Polenta is an Italian dish made from corn grits. It is a comforting corn porridge made both sweet and savory. Today I discovered Millet grits. They look and cook just like corn grits, but faster. With the right complimentary ingredient balance, they are a pretty close match all around. I made a cheese polenta with a sugo (tomato-ragu) sauce to test the waters. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me.
Sugo Sauce

Millet Polenta with goat's cheese and pecorino and a Sugo Sauce

1/2 cup millet grits
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
black pepper (to your taste) 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 splash balsamic vinegar
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp soft goat's cheese
1/3 cup grated pecorino
1 tsp organic honey

To serve:
olive oil, black pepper,sea salt, small handful grated pecorino.

Boil the water and half the salt in a small pot. Add the millet and stir. Cover with a lid and turn the heat down. The polenta will be ready in about 10 minutes, be sure to stir it occasionally. In the meantime, start your sauce.

When the polenta is nearly ready (should look like thick cream of wheat) add in your remaining ingredients. Stir lightly so that you retain pockets of the cheeses. Cover.

Sugo Sauce

1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt
fresh black pepper
1 tsp organic honey

I tend to make tomato sauces in a large stir-frying pan. I never use a non-stick pan.

Heat some olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. If they burn a bit, add a bit of water or red wine and loosen them from the bottom using a spatula or spoon. Add the garlic and saute it as well until fragrant. Add the salt and pepper, a few turns of each. Add the tomato puree. Lower the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add a splash of balsamic and a dash or two of the paprika. Add the honey. Let simmer for two more minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings to your personal taste.

Serve the polenta in a deep bowl, drizzled with olive oil, a lot of pepper, and some
 grated pecorino cheese. Serve the sauce either on top, on the side of the bowl, or in its own bowl so you can gradually incorporate it into the polenta.


NB: There is likely to be more sauce than you need for this dish. I recommend either making extra polenta (ie/polenta for 2 by doubling that part of the recipe) or reserving the leftover sauce and transforming it into a homemade ketchup.

Leftover Sugo-Ketchup

Leftover Sugo Sauce
1 tsp cinnammon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp organic honey
organic white wine vinegar (enough to give the sauce a ketchup-like tang (I used about 3 tbsp)

Mix all ingregients together well or blend them together with a handblender until smooth. Store in a small sterile mason jar or jam jar if storing for later.  Or, store in a jar with a tight fitting lid or a tupperware container if you're likely to consume it within a week.

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