These versatile asparagus polenta bowls are a study in contrasting flavors and textures. Buttery polenta counters the bitter notes of spring greens and asparagus, while creamy ricotta tempers the heat of red pepper flakes and young garlic.
Late spring produce is coming in heaps now. Unlike in New York, where hardy lettuces and dark, leafy greens last nearly all summer, here in Virginia the heat forces a brief season for greens, and recent temperatures in the mid-90s are not helping. Knowing this bounty will soon end, we’re eating literal piles of lettuce and greens nightly.
This recipe for asparagus polenta bowls features a mess of late May produce: broccoli rabe, asparagus (whose season will also end any second), arugula (not yet spicy), young garlic, and radishes. The idea here is to use nearly anything that shows up in your CSA share or market basket. Variations including kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, mizuna, collards, chard, turnips, radishes and their greens, or broccoli would all be wonderful. Likewise, sub in an egg, protein, or the cheese of your choice.
The bulk of prep for this recipe takes place in a salad spinner. First, I wash and spin the rabe and any greens I plan to sauté, making sure everything gets a good shake in a full bowl of cold water to dislodge the inevitable sand. Next, the asparagus needs a good soak and several shakes under water as it’s the sandiest. You could also use a full sink of water and just dip and shake it all together. Just leave some time for the sand to settle on the bottom and gently remove everything so as not to stir it back up.
- 4 cups water, plus 1 cup more as needed
- 1 cup dry polenta (also known as corn grits)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 pound asparagus, woody ends snapped and well rinsed
- Sea salt
- 1/2 pound broccoli rabe
- 2 cups arugula, kale, or greens of choice
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
- 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- Zest of 1 lemon plus a squeeze of juice
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- Fresh ground pepper
- Sea salt
- Red pepper flakes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Radish slices, sprinkled with a squeeze of lemon and sea salt
In a 2-quart pot, bring 4 cups cold water to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and then whisk in polenta. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer. Cook, stirring often, about 40 minutes, or until polenta is tender and creamy. If needed or desired, add up to 1 cup more water. (I find the amount of water I need varies from day to day, so use your best judgement.) Add sea salt to taste.
Meanwhile, throughly rinse vegetables and arrange on a towel to dry.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Bring a big pot of cold water to a boil. Blanche asparagus 1 - 2 minutes, remove from boiling water with tongs, and set under cold running water. Repeat for the broccoli rabe. Pat vegetables dry with a clean towel.
Set a 9 or 10-inch skillet over medium/medium-high heat (hot, but not so hot the oil smokes). Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and half the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt. Sauté 2 minutes, or just until golden and slightly blistered. Remove to a large platter and set in the warm oven. Repeat for remaining asparagus. To the same skillet, add another tablespoon olive oil, broccoli rabe, and a pinch sea salt, and sauté about 4 minutes. Remove to warm platter. Remove skillet from heat briefly.
Once skillet has cooled slightly, lower heat to medium, and add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 1 minute. Add arugula or kale, and sauté just until wilted. Sprinkle with sea salt. Spoon mixture over rabe and asparagus. Add sea salt to taste. Top with lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Spoon ricotta into a small bowl and add a pinch each sea salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Drizzle with olive oil.
To serve, spoon polenta into shallow bowls, pile with cooked vegetables, and dot with ricotta mixture. Garnish with radishes and red pepper flakes to taste.