I grew up eating brown rice (and peas, which are beans. Its a Jamaican thing) with almost every meal, because rice was what my Dad grew up eating. My mom on the other hand grew up with potatoes. We did occasionally eat potatoes too, but for the most part Mom adapted to Dad on this one. Of course we also had pasta. Actually most any meal that didn’t come along with rice was probably pasta based. Obviously my enduring and deep love of pasta came from somewhere.
My husband ate a fair amount of potatoes as a kid. White rice too. At the beginning of our marriage I found myself cooking a lot less brown rice and a lot more potatoes. I guess that adapting to your spouse thing is common? Pasta also made a frequent appearance. I couldn’t live without pasta!
But, lately I find I want to vary the starch accompanying out meals. There are so many interesting starches out there, wild rice, faro, quinoa (I know I’ve companied about it being trendy on past occasions but it’s managed to win an enduring place in my heart and on my dinner table), whole grain pastas, fingerling potatoes, russets, red potatoes, couscous, bread of every type… and of course today’s star: polenta.
In parts of Italy, polenta is used as commonly as pasta in meals and I see why, it’s an understated but pleasantly flavored food, and incredibly versatile. You can fry it, grill it, serve it creamy. It takes well to added cheese, herbs, or spices. It’s also actually incredible easy to make homemade polenta, though it does require some time and tending. Most fortunately, many pre-made polentas right from your local grocery store are also quite good and make an easy and quick addition to a meal as well.
In today’s dish we put this versatile starch to work. (Feel free to use homemade or store bought for the recipe.) We fry up rounds of polenta, so they have a crisp exterior, and a creamy interior. Then we top the polenta with fresh tomatoes (The nicer your tomatoes the better this dish will taste), ground pork seasoned with fennel and garlic, and creamy goat cheese. We bake it all together and top it all off with fresh basil right before serving (It also doesn’t hurt to crumble a little extra cheese on top!).
All of these classic Italian flavors blend together incredible well and the final effect is almost lasagna like, with the creamy cheese and juicy tomatoes melding to make a sauce that the polenta can soak up. The pork and its subtle seasoning blends right in, and the fresh basil gives the entire dish a pop that lightens everything up.
This one has become a new dinner favorite at our house and it really does the job of shaking up the starch component of the meal. It’s nice to have some variation in the routine! I hope you enjoy it as well.
- 2 lbs ground pork (unseasoned)
- 2 teaspoons fennel
- 2 clove garlic minced
- 36 oz of polenta (two pre-made rolls) sliced into 1/4 in thick slices
- 8 oz creamy goat cheese
- 6 large ripe tomatoes diced (substitute two cans of dices tomatoes if needed)
- 3 sprigs of fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons
- 1. Heat a skillet or grill pan to medium high heat. Add the ground pork to the pan with fennel and garlic. Brown the meat stiring in the seasoning.
- 2. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Drain the grease from the meat reserving about a tablespoon, discard the rest. Return the pan to a medium high heat. Add the polenta rounds along with the reserved drippings to the pan. Fry each slice of polenta until medium brown. Flip and fry the opposite side.
- 3. Spray a 9X13 casserole dish with spray oil to prevent sticking. Place the fried polenta rounds along the bottom of the pan in a flat layer. If the entire pan is covered but additional slices remain it is ok to start a second layer.
- 4. Pour the ground pork over the polenta slices distributing evenly. Crumble 6oz of the goat cheese over the pork. Add 1/2 of the basil ribbons to the casserole dish, distribute evenly. Add the diced tomatoes to the casserole dish, also distributing evenly over the other ingredients.
- 6. Bake at 350* for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven. Top each serving with the remainder of the goat cheese and fresh basil before serving. Serve hot.