27 March 2013

Creamy Polenta with Turkey Meatballs & Basil

Polenta is the unsung hero of Italian cuisine.  So frequently overshadowed by a plethora of pastas, this delicious, gluten-free grain can be forgotten about.  Inconceivable!  But sadly true.  In fact, it had been several months since I've made a dish with polenta, and even longer since I've blogged about it.  To make up for this tragedy, I bring to you one of my favorite polenta dinners.  Ready in 20 minutes, this delicious, simple and hearty dish is one that you will look forward to making any night of the week.  

One of the reasons polenta is so near and dear to my heart is due to my my step-dad.  He has Celiac disease and cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat and other whole grains.  While I know other gluten-free individuals who embrace their dietary constrictions, he sees them as the road block between him and a bowl *insert favorite carby dish here*.  So I always do my best to make dishes that leave him feeling indulged rather than excluded.  And polenta is fabulous for this.  It in incredibly versatile and can be prepared almost any way.  It's great cooled and served in its solid state (terrific in dishes such as Kale Meatball & Polenta Bites or Grilled Polenta w/ Goat Cheese, Spinach & Tomato Chicken).  It can also be served as a gloriously creamy mush in soft polenta, better than any mashed potato you've ever eaten (but then again, I have that crazy potato bias).  

I absolutely love this dish.  It's great to eat traditional Italian cuisine that doesn't have the weighty dominance of a thick red sauce.  Here three simple components of soft polenta, basil and meatballs make for a fabulously flavorful meal.  Lean turkey is wonderful pairing with the basil paste and is a nice lean option to beef.  With the calories we save in the meatballs, we don't feel guilty for splurging on our polenta.  Typically we have fat free milk in our home and will go with that and butter (that equals 2%, right?).  But we have made this with whole milk and butter for a fantastically rich and intensely creamy, dreamy polenta.  I thought the hubs was going to shed a tear out of happiness that time.  On the flip side, we've also gone with non-fat milk and half butter/Smart Balance for a healthier option.  Feel free to tweak as you like, but as is the case in most of life, more fat = more creamy.  

So the ingredients here are easy enough...ground turkey, instant polenta, seasonings - check, check, check.  But you may pause a second a basil paste.  This is a great fridge option that we purchase from time to time, easily grabbed in the vegetable section of our local market.  If the fresh basil looks a bit lack-luster or you just don't think you'll eat it all before it turns, this is a great alternative.  The flavor is a bit different as is the consistency (paste...duh), but I actually prefer it in dishes such as this.  If you can't find basil paste, homemade or store-bought pesto would also be wonderful.

Gotta love a lean meatball on top of a delicious bed of warm basil polenta.  

Creamy Polenta with Turkey Meatballs & Basil (serves 3)

For the meatballs:
  • 10 oz 99% lean ground turkey 
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbs minced onion
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs (homemade, store-bought or panko)
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional in your home, but as always essential in ours)
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 egg white 
For the basil polenta:
  • 3/4 c instant polenta
  • 2 c milk (whole for richer, 2% for healthier)
  • 4 tbs butter (light or regular)
  • 3 tbs basil paste or pesto (found in the herb section of your market)
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a small baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick.  To make the meatballs, combine turkey, parmesan, onion, bread crumbs, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, chili flakes, garlic and egg white in a medium bowl.  Mix together with your hands until well combined.  Form into meatballs a little larger than a golfball, about 1 1/2 ounces in weight (about 9 meatballs).  Place the meatballs on the prepared tray spaced slightly apart.  Bake for 11-12 minutes.

While the meatballs bake, make the polenta.  Combine 1 1/2 cups of warm water with 1 1/2 cups of milk in a medium saucepan and season with salt and pepper.  Place over medium hight heat.  Bring the milk to a boil, stirring frequently so the milk doesn't scald.  When the liquid just starts to foam and rise, reduce heat to medium-low and add the instant polenta.  Cook according to directions, typically for few minutes until the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat, then add the butter and stir together until completely melted.

To plate, scoop a half cup or so of prepared polenta onto a plate.  Top with a tablespoon of basil paste or pesto, gently spreading over the top until evenly distributed.  Place three meatballs on top of the polenta and garnish with parmesan and fresh julienned basil.  Serve hot with fresh sliced tomatos or grilled kale and mushrooms.  

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