Do you ever decide to try a new recipe even though you are almost certain that you will be the only one in your family that will enjoy eating it? That’s what I was afraid would happen the first time I made this cheesy polenta with beans and greens…aka polenta con cavolo. It turns out I was wrong. All four of us LOVED it, and it immediately went into rotation as a Newell family favorite! (And by greens, I mean kale. Glorious, nutrient-rich kale.)
You see, I’d been reading the cookbook, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, by Lidia Bastianich. In it, Lidia shares stories about the culture and recipes that are traditional in the different regions of Italy. There were many meals that I bookmarked, but when I discovered the recipe for Polenta con Cavolo, I knew that I wanted to create an simplified version to feed our family that very evening. All of the ingredients are pantry staples (for our family anyways), there was kale in the fridge, it was a chilly day, and I was craving comfort food. (Technically, Lidia considers this peasant food. Either way, it rocks.)
A few hours later, I plated the dish pictured above, said a prayer that my family would at least be willing to try it, and then enthusiastically participated with both girls and Darren in devouring our dinner. Let me just tell you, the Italian peasants know how to cook! This is a tasty, inexpensive and nutrient-packed meal that will easily help your family make the transition into spring and utilize the first local greens of the season!
(Did I mention it has bacon…?)
Cheesy Polenta with Beans and Greens…aka Polenta con Cavolo
Inspired by Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
START TO FINISH: 30 MINUTES, MOSTLY ACTIVE
For the beans and greens:
6 oz nitrate-free bacon
1 bunch kale, green or dinosaur
3½ cups prepared cannellini beans (2 cans rinsed and drained)
½ cup organic chicken broth
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
For the polenta:
3½ cups organic chicken broth
½ cup filtered water
1 cup dry polenta
1 cup grated smoked gouda cheese
1½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
For the finish:
½ cup parmigiano-reggiano
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup gorgonzola (optional to me, required by Darren, despised by little girls, use your judgement)
Preparations: Grate 1 cup smoked gouda. Remove thick stems and thinly slice the leaves of one bunch kale. If necessary, drain and rinse 2 cans of canellini beans.
Start your polenta: Using a medium sized saucepan, bring 3½ cups chicken broth and ½ cup filtered water to a boil using medium-high heat. As soon as liquid reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk in 1 cup polenta and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed. Turn off heat. Whisk 1 cup grated gouda, 1½ tsp smoked paprika, and ½ tsp each sea salt and black pepper. Cover and set aside until ready to serve, no more than 10 minutes.
At the same time you begin heating the broth for your polenta, begin your beans and greens: Heat a large deep skillet with a tight fitting lid over medium heat for about 5 minutes. When skillet is hot, use kitchen shears to cut bacon, directly over the skillet, into ½ inch strips. Saute bacon for about 7 – 10 minutes, until it is just starting to crisp.
Add your greens to your bacon: When bacon has started to crisp, add sliced kale and 1 tsp each sea salt and black pepper to skillet. Toss the bacon and the kale for about 30 seconds, just long enough to thoroughly coat the kale with the bacon drippings. Cover the skillet with a tight fitting lid and allow the kale to cook down for about 3 minutes, until mostly wilted.
Add your beans to your greens: When the 5 minutes have lapsed, remove lid. Add prepared cannellini beans and ½ cup chicken stock to skillet. Allow mixture to come just to a simmer, still using medium heat. Once simmering, stir beans and greens mixture for an additional 2 – 3 minutes. This will ensure the kale is tender and the beans are heated throughout. Once prepared, turn off heat.
Pulling it all together: Ladle a generous scoop of the finished polenta into shallow bowls. Top each bowl with a ladle of the beans, greens, and bacon. Finish each bowl with two tablespoons parmigiano-reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve and enjoy!
Notes: The reason that I wrote this recipe to use 3½ cups and ½ cup filtered water for the polenta is so that the entire recipe requires just 1 quart of chicken broth. (You use the last ½ cup chicken broth in the beans and greens.) If you have a bunch of homemade stock on hand, feel free to use an entire quart of chicken broth in it’s place. This tasty and nourishing dinner is naturally gluten-free and nut-free. Vegetarians can use ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil in place of the bacon, and vegetable stock in place of the chicken broth.