The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

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Creamy Polenta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Shell Beans

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.

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
Olive oil
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.

  • Erin - This dish is gorgeous and I love the comfort level of fall with the flavors of summer!ReplyCancel

  • Lori - This looks like its going to be tonight’s dinner! Thanks do much!ReplyCancel

  • Lori - This looks like its going to be tonight’s dinner! Thanks so much!ReplyCancel

  • Christina - I just had a discussion with my local farmer, I asked him to never stop producing tomatoes, make them last through the winter! All he did was laugh. Produce definitely isn’t the same after it’s been shipped and sitting in crates through thousands of miles.ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - I like the phrase “vegetal riches.” Looks delicious as well :)ReplyCancel

  • kickpleat - Gorgeous! I had a similar lunch yesterday – polenta topped with sauteed sun gold tomatoes, but this looks so much lovelier. And yes, I agree, italian mashed potatoes, it is.ReplyCancel

  • Ashlae - I’ve (gasp!) never had polenta. But you’ve convinced me, I’ve got to try it :)

    Loving the shot of the raspberries – so pretty.ReplyCancel

  • Katherine Sacks - It’s settled, I’m crashing your summer trip next year and coming along! I love goats! Beautiful pictures as always and the creamy polenta looks perfect for this cool fall evening!ReplyCancel

  • thelittleloaf - I adore wet polenta – it’s so creamy and comforting. Love how you’ve combined it with tomatoes and those lovely fresh podded beans. Think I might try it with some borlotti I got from the market yesterday. Lovely!ReplyCancel

  • la domestique - I like the combination of creamy polenta and tart cherry tomatoes and how cute is Mr. (or Mrs?) goat?!ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn - What a lovely combination of summer and autumn both in flavours and textures, just beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • thecitygourmand - That looks a lovely Autumnal dish, I shall save it!ReplyCancel

  • Erin - We ate creamy polenta this week, too. I used stone ground corn meal and baked ours in the oven. Spoonfuls of fresh tomato sauce made it just right for a September night with a little chill in the air. I love this time of year.ReplyCancel

  • NicoleD - You really know how to balance the line between summer and fall! I can’t wait to make polenta, again. and topping it with late summer produce is a brilliant idea.ReplyCancel

  • charlotte au chocolat - That little, detached cottage surrounded by chickens and goats and raspberries sounds dreamy! And yes, California has it made with its yearlong abundance of produce. Enjoy it! ;)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - Sounds like such a nice time away in the wild. Whenever I get out of my city, I’m always so taken with the plain old oxygen in natural places. As produce goes, It’s the fresh citrus I envy most. We always embrace citrus season, but knowing it’s all from Florida or California, it just isn’t the same.ReplyCancel

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food - Thanks for rubbing it in… damn you West Coasters and your amazing produce. We have good stuff too, of course, but it disappears so quickly! Loving this polenta recipe! Looks marvelous!ReplyCancel

  • sarah - Beautiful. I had a bad experience with polenta, but you’ve convinced me to give it another try.

    And I do envy your produce. Minneapolis is freezing 7 months of the year. Maybe it’s time to move? :)ReplyCancel

  • Kasey - We really are lucky to live in such a bountiful place. I’m a big fan of ‘bowl food’ as Sara from Sprouted Kitchen would say – and this is definitely my kind of bowl food.ReplyCancel

  • Heather M - Ha, so true about the produce! I can’t remember who said it, maybe it was in Blood Bones and Butter, but someone was talking about how when people talk about eating locally, they are thinking of California. Some parts of the country, eating locally would mean meals devoid of many kinds of produce that we are used to just having all the time. I just shop at my local co-op these days, and while they emphasize local produce, they actually sent out an email last winter to address all the comments they get about Why isn’t there a better variety of produce? Of course it’s because they are trying to keep it local. and people truly didn’t realize the limited things that are being grown at certain times of year.

    The amazing thing is that this is in the fertile Skagit Valley in washington state so it’s not like we’re not in a major agricultural climate!

    Anyway, I can forego those tomatoes in the winter, but I’m not giving up avocado! We don’t grow any up here, so I’ll just have to sacrifice somewhere else. :-)ReplyCancel

  • MikeVFMK - I am envious of your year-round amazing produce. But here in Toronto I’ve come to appreciate four distinct seasons and four distant growing seasons. As for this dish, it’s vibrant and beautiful. And I hate to admit I’ve never had polenta before but I’m willing to give it a try.ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - OH, oh, oh my word does this sound fantastic. And that first photo is stunning. The lighting is perfect! A perfect end of summer dish!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley @ Sensibly Gourmet - I wish I could find beautiful beans like that here in Aspen, the recipe looks delicious!ReplyCancel

  • Miscellany - Happyolks - […] Yes. Yum. Creamy Polenta, Cherry Tomatoes, and Shell Beans. […]ReplyCancel

  • Carrian@ohsweetbasil - I was just wondering what I should do with my tomatoes, this looks so good!ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne - I love how you get away to work on projects, Kimberley. And this polenta? Yum.ReplyCancel

  • Kiran @ - Everything about this dish screams summer with beautiful bounty!ReplyCancel

  • molly - What a magnificent end of summer/first of fall feast.

    I see this on our table, very soon…ReplyCancel

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