Spring Pea Polenta with Garlic and Ham
BY ANNE LIVINGSTON
Serves 4 | start to finish: 25 minutes
The combination of peas and ham is a wickedly delicious late spring comfort food. Add this to creamy polenta to make a satisfying springtime lunch or side dish. It is light enough to enjoy on a sunny porch, yet robust enough to strengthen your soul on a Seattle “June-uary” day. You can add any part of the pea plant—sprout, shoot, pod, or pea—to this polenta. If you do use pea shoots or sprouts, though, make sure that they are very young or they will be too woody to enjoy. Taste a shoot raw to check for maturity, and if it is too chewy, snip off the tendrils to use in the dish, reserving the shoots to flavor a future stock or broth.
2 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cup peas, or a combination of peas, pea shoots, and tendrils
2/3 cup polenta
2 cups hot water (as needed)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 ounces ham or pancetta, sliced into 1/4 inch wide strips
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
Bring the stock to a boil. Pour in the peas and shoots and blanch them for 1 minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside. If you have delicate tendrils, leave those raw for garnish. Leave the stock boiling on the stovetop.
Pour the polenta into the stock in a slow and steady stream, whisking constantly to resist clumping. After the polenta is completely incorporated, reduce heat to low and simmer the polenta for 20 minutes, stirring often and adding water if the polenta becomes too dry. The texture should be about the same as pudding.
Five minutes before the polenta is ready, stir in the garlic and ham strips. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Right before serving the polenta, stir in the butter and most of the peas and shoots, leaving a few aside for a garnish. Serve in small bowls, or as a side dish to something saucy.