Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My New Rainy Day Comfort Food

I was spending a lazy Saturday watching PBS when Lidia's Italy came on. Lidia drank wine, she sliced polenta with a string, she kissed people on both cheeks. I don't usually get excited about Italian food (not enough cumin), but when she returned to her kitchen studio and whipped out two bunches of kale, I sat up and took notice.

First Lidia made polenta (with bay leaves? good idea!), and then she sautéed the kale in bacon fat. "That could be dinner if you added white beans," I said. And sure enough, she added white beans! Did I feel clever. Once the polenta was thick and bubbly, Lidia scooped it into a shallow dish and topped it with the kale, beans, and bacon. The dish, Lidia's Polenta with White Beans and Black Kale, took less than 20 minutes to prepare. It had such potential as an easy, healthy staple meal, I knew had to veganize it.

First off, there's no need for bacon. Olive oil and lots of fresh garlic lend the kale and beans a flavor that's just as rich and interesting. Soak and cook your white beans ahead of time with some salt and bay leaves if you like, or retain the weeknight gourmet aspect of this meal by using canned beans. Lidia uses black kale, also known as Lacinato and dinosaur kale, but regular old curly kale is fine. Fiddleheads, if you can find them, would be outstanding in this rich, garlicky dish. A drizzle of really good, peppery olive oil is the perfect finishing touch.

Polenta with Kale and White Beans
(adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy)

3 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
⅔ cup yellow polenta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 packed cups kale, roughly chopped
½ cup low salt vegetable broth or water
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
½ teaspoon salt (reduce if broth is salty)
high quality extra-virgin olive oil (to drizzle)

In a medium saucepan, boil water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and bay leaves. Pour in polenta, whisking to ensure no lumps form. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cover. Stir frequently.

While polenta cooks, warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds, just enough for the garlic to become fragrant but not begin to brown. Add kale and toss with garlic (this is easiest with tongs). After 2 minutes, when kale has begun to cook down, add broth, beans, and salt. Sauté another 5-6 minutes, uncovered, until most of the liquid has boiled off.

After 20 minutes, the polenta should be thick and creamy. Remove bay leaves and scoop into shallow bowls. Top with kale and beans. Drizzle additional olive oil over kale if desired.

Serves 2.


  1. Yes! I have white beans, and I have dinosaur kale and I have polenta! Off to the kitchen to cook them beans.

    Thank you, now I am really looking forward to dinner tonight. It's pouring buckets here. Blah.

    Your photo is stunning, btw.

  2. I see you've got your appetite back! Kale, white beans and creamy polenta is a staple at our house, and your version looks yummy.

  3. Yum! I love wholesome bean/grain/green combos like that, and it's been far too long since I've made polenta.

  4. i absolutely adore all of those things. i should put them together, what a good idea!

  5. I get very exited about Italian food, all the time! Glad to hear you are cooking again.

  6. Brilliant. I have a huge bunch of kale sitting in my fridge, and I don't think making kale chips is going to be enough to take care of it! Thanks for posting this recipe.

  7. That really does look like perfect rainy day food!

  8. I've got black kale in my fridge and maybe not white beans but I can always use kidney...only thing is no polenta! But definitely making the kale and beans combo.

  9. GORGEOUS. We finally have the Food Network again after 3 years without it, and even though it is decidedly not vegan, I love to watch it just for inspiration like this. Veganizing food is so easy and tasty. This looks like an absolutely wonderful dinner, hearty, delicious and simple. Thank you!

  10. Bryanna Clark Grogan in Nonna's Italian Kitchen has a similar dish but with the addition of some onions at the beginning and she adds a touch of toasted sesame oil to add depth of flavor in place of the bacon. It is DELICIOUS and I highly recommend trying it with onion, which adds just a touch of juicy sweetness :).

  11. Beautiful!!! I actually planned on making something similar for dinner the other night, but then I came home from work exhausted & just ate cereal instead. :-P I am going to make this tonight! I love the idea of using polenta, too. Yummm.


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