A steaming bowl of creamy polenta is the perfect base for a hearty bean stew, and this one is just delicious. This is a real winter warmer of a dish, ideal for warming up on a cold night.
It’s also a perfect weeknight meal as it doesn’t take too long to cook. It tends to take me about half an hour. If you’re looking for a quick meal, make sure that you use quick-cook polenta rather than coarse polenta. Coarse polenta takes at least 30 minutes of constant stirring, which means you won’t be free to do anything else (and your arm will feel like it’s going to fall off!). Italians will claim that coarse polenta is far superior, but honestly, for me the difference with this is minimal and it’s worth saving your biceps.
That being said, it’s worth bearing in mind with a recipe as simple as this that good-quality ingredients make all the difference. Quick-cook polenta is a good cheat, but I recommend trying to get hold of jarred borlotti beans, as they have a better flavour than tinned, and make sure you use fresh herbs – dried just can’t cut it here.
You can use whatever bitter seasonal greens you’re able to find. I love using autumnal Italian greens like cime di rapa or cavolo nero, but Swiss chard, regular kale, spinach or even tender-stem broccoli also work well. See what you can get your hands on or tweak it to your own taste.
If you decide to make this, let me know what you think. Had you cooked polenta before? Did you add or leave out any ingredients? Leave me a comment below!
Ingredients – serves 4
2 onions (red or white)
2 sticks of celery
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
½ a bulb of garlic
2 x 400g tins of borlotti beans
400g seasonal greens
150g quick-cook polenta
a knob of butter
30g of Parmesan cheese (roughly)
red wine vinegar, to serve
Peel the onions and carrots, trim the celery, then finely chop it all into tiny chunks – try to get it small, but don’t worry too much if you’re bad with a knife! Just make sure the veg are soft before you serve up. Pour a drizzle of oil into a saucepan over a medium-high heat and tip in the chopped veg. Season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, strip in the rosemary and stir in the bay leaves. Leave it all to fry for 10 minutes or so, giving it a stir every now and then to stop it from catching on the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the garlic and prep your greens: tear the leafy tops off of the stalks, roughly tear into chunks and put to one side; then, slice the thickest part of the stalks and keep them separate from the leaves.
Once your vegetable base is golden brown, stir in the garlic and the stalks of the greens – these will take a little longer to cook than the leafy tops. Fry for just a minute or two, then tip in the beans in their juice. Turn the heat down to medium-low and leave it to simmer, stirring occasionally.
Measure out the water for the polenta and pour it into a saucepan – you want the ratio of water to polenta to be about 5 to 1, so you’ll want about 750ml of water for 150g polenta. Pop the pan over the heat and bring it up to the boil while you grate the Parmesan (see tip). Stir the remaining greens into the beans and allow them to wilt down until the polenta is ready.
Turn the water down to a gentle simmer, then slowly tip in the polenta, whisking constantly. Try to pour it in a steady stream, as this will help prevent lumps. Stir the polenta nonstop for at least 5 minutes, or until any lumps have gone and the pan is bubbling with an oozy gloop – trust me, it’s going to be good.
Quickly add a knob of butter and the grated Parmesan to the polenta and beat until melted and creamy, then ladle the polenta into shallow bowls and top with a generous serving of beans and greens.
This is absolutely delicious as is, but I love mine with an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny splash of red wine vinegar.
Make sure you grate your Parmesan before you start cooking the polenta. It’s impossible to stir properly while frantically grating cheese, so do yourself a favour and be prepared.
Feel free to add any extra vegetables you have in the house – some roasted pumpkin would be a beautiful addition, but so would something simpler like frozen peas or a couple of diced tomatoes.
If you’ve got any leftover beans, they’re just gorgeous on hot toast.
- Peel the onions and carrots, then finely chop with the celery.
- Pour a drizzle of oil into a saucepan and place over a medium-high heat with the chopped veg.
- Season with a good pinch each of salt and pepper, strip in the rosemary and add the bay leaves.
- Fry for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then, while you peel and finely slice the garlic and prep your greens: finely slice any tough stalks, keeping them to one side, and tear the leaves into bigger chunks.
- Stir in the garlic and the finely chopped stalks, letting it fry for just a minute or two (you don’t want it to catch).
- Without draining, tip in the beans and turn the heat down to medium-low. Leave it to simmer, stirring it now and then, while you make the polenta.
- Pour 750ml of water into a saucepan and bring it up to the boil.
- While the water heats up, grate the Parmesan into a bowl (see tip).
- Once the water is boiling, stir the greens’ leafy tops into the beans – these should wilt down in the time it takes to cook the polenta.
- Turn the pan of water down to a simmer and slowly pour in the polenta, whisking as you go to avoid lumps.
- Keep stirring the polenta over the heat for 5 minutes, then add the butter and Parmesan and beat until melted and creamy.
- Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with the beans and greens. Gorgeous with an extra drizzle of olive oil and a tiny splash of red wine vinegar.