One of the greatest takeaways from my time in Montana is how crazy lucky I am to have such an abundance of produce available here in northern California. My last week there, I stayed in a little detached cabin on a small property in the Bitterroot valley, hunkered down for a week of projects.
The people who owned the place – kind, warm folks who shared their unparalleled farm eggs with me, milk from their goats, and their raspberries – had a garden overflowing with late summer and early fall produce. And it really blew my mind that those gorgeous little sungold tomatoes just coming into their own were already at risk of an abrupt end because the first frost was threatening, nightly, in the forecast.
I get it now, why some of you grumble at the wealth of fresh produce that I flaunt on this site all winter long. While tomatoes in winter are like zombie versions of their summer selves, so much that you can’t get elsewhere isn’t: our citrus, our pomegranates, our greens, our avocados. I know, you can get these things anywhere, but it’s not the same when it’s been shipped one thousand miles. This winter I will try to be humble in sharing my vegetal riches.
In the meanwhile, I’m so taken with the unique transition September provides: our late-summer produce is still going strong, but the subtle turn in weather has me running towards comfort foods. My friend Nicole smartly called polenta Italian mashed potatoes – and she’s so right about that one. They’re rich and creamy and comforting in a way that other grains aren’t. And a perfect vehicle for the latter days of our cherry tomatoes and fresh shell beans.
CREAMY POLENTA WITH ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES AND FRESH SHELL BEANS
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 pound cranberry beans or similar shell bean (this is their unshelled weight; should yield about 2 cups of beans)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 cup polenta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon za’atar
Greek yogurt for serving
Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
First, prepare the beans. Shell them if you haven’t already. In a medium pot, saute the onions in a little olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, and cover with water by about two inches. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the beans are soft, about 30 minutes. When the beans are ready, drain thoroughly and set aside.
While the beans are simmering, prepare the tomatoes. Toss with a generous coating of olive oil and roast in the oven until soft but not totally shapeless, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Next, prepare the polenta. Add four cups of water to a medium large pot, along with the polenta. Bring to a low simmer, stirring frequently so the polenta doesn’t burn. When the water has absorbed and the grain is cooked, turn off heat. Add the parmesan cheese, a generous quantity of black pepper, and salt to your liking.
In a large skillet, heat some olive oil over a low flame. Add the teaspoon of za’atar and the beans. Saute the beans for a few more minutes with the za’atar.
Divide the polenta among four bowls. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt, a large spoonful of beans, and a quarter of the cherry tomatoes. Finish with chopped parsley. Serve warm.