Grilled Polenta and Fagioli All'Ucelletto
Little Boy Green adores polenta and is fortunate enough to be in Friuli in Northern Italy where polenta is like baguette to a Parisian. Here it is often served grilled to accompany a selection of barbecued meats. Since we are not fans of the traditional accompaniment, we decided to serve the polenta with Little Boy Green’s perennial favourite, beans.
Not only have we broken with tradition by serving the polenta with beans, we did so with a Tuscan dish. But, hey, its all Italian, right? It’s possibly very wrong, but I am not afraid to admit to this particular wrongdoing since I must say that the beans and the polenta formed a very happy marriage together. The beans are a little Cowboy fireside in flavour, and more than a little inspired by good old British baked beans.
Because the meats that polenta is generally served with can be quite salty, the polenta is very subtle in taste and cooked without much salt, making it quite bland on its own and relying mainly on the smoke from the grill for flavour. Similarly, bread in Tuscany that does not contain much salt is served with the fagioli all'ucelletto.
We prepared the polenta with a low-sat bouillon to give it a bit of flavour, especially since we did not grill it on an open flame (which I highly recommend when feasible). Cooking the polenta in this way is a bit different from the polenta I would normally serve to Little Boy Green, as it has additional steps in the preparation. The polenta needs first to be cooked on the stove, then allowed to cool down and solidify. Once it can be sliced, the polenta slices are grilled.
Cooking the polenta this way makes for a different experience, as grilling it transforms it and gives it a nice charred flavour. The grilled polenta slices are more reminiscent of slices of bread than a porridge.
For the fagioli all'ucelletto we used tinned cannellini beans, (I am on holiday, so no soaking dried beans this time). The dish was also inspired by the sage my mother has growing in her garden. Including fresh herbs always lift a good dish, it is a way of perfecting dish that already sings in its simplicity. My mother also provided some fancy tableware that made the meal all that more celebratory.
We included some sliced bread for those set in their ways, and grilled some eggplant. Although neither was really necessary, they made the simple supper more of a feast. Little Boy Green had his share the following day. Now, he did not touch the eggplant, and tried and then promptly refused the sage leaves, but otherwise was very happy to enjoy for a late breakfast this lovely, simple and flavourful meal. He particularly likes the polenta cooked this way as he can hold it, caress it and take it for a walk and all the while the sliced polenta holds its shape.
Ingredients: (enough for 8, makes great leftovers)
- 500g instant polenta
- 1.5 litres of water
- 2 tbsp bouillon
- Bring the water to boil in a large pot and then add the bouillon.
- Turn the heat down and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring continuously to avoid any clumping.
- Cook for 3 minutes. If any clumping does occur, that is fine, continue to stir and eventually it will all dissolve into a thick porridge. Be careful as you stir the polenta, particularly once it has all been added to the pot as it can spit and possibly burn you. I use a long wooden spoon to minimise this.
- Oil a shallow baking dish and pour in the cooked polenta while it is still hot. Spread with an oiled spatula and press down as you are spreading to pack the polenta into a solid block.
- Once the polenta has cooled, tip onto a chopping board and cut into 1-2 cm slices.
- Place individual slices onto a grill or griddle plate until nicely charred. We did not find any need to oil the individual slices, instead we waited until the grill was quite hot.
Ingredients: (Serves 4 as a main)
- 3 X cans of cannellini beans, drained (reserve 1 can worth of liquid)
- 1 cup (250 ml) of thick tomato passata
- 4 cloves of garlic
- Small bunch (approx. 25g) of fresh sage
- 100ml olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 tsp of salt
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dice the garlic and tear up half of the sage leaves and place in a large pot. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before cooking.
- Add the oil and gently saute on low heat until garlic is just starting to brown (approx. 2 minutes).
- Tear up the remaining sage leaves and add to the pot together with the beans, salt, and tomato passata. Mix to combine.
- Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. If the sauce is too dry, add some of the reserved liquid from the beans until you have reached the desired consistency (beware of making the mixture too soupy).
- Season to taste and drizzle with olive oil when ready to serve.