I would like to pause the season. Yesterday: an early morning walk to Bound Brook. An empty beach, skinny-dipping in the bay. The walk home: Sally naked with her shoes on, Fisher trailing, sniffing. Clear skies and a perfect 73 degrees. A look around the garden—arugula ready for harvest, tomatoes littering the ground. Sally crawling in to get them, through the cages and beneath the tangle of green. And lunch, another stunner of a recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty.
We started with the eggplant sauce. Sally sat on the kitchen floor eating cherry tomatoes straight from the colander while I chopped. We fried eggplant cubes in olive oil, added tomatoes and white wine and oregano, a pinch of salt and another pinch of sugar. We simmered.
While the sauce got thick we started the polenta—cut the kernels from 6 ears of corn. I put the kernels in a pot and covered them with water while Sally picked up the ones that fell on the floor, and we took the silk and cobs and husks out to the compost. When the corn was soft, we got out the immersion blender. We pureed until it turned into a smooth, runny sauce, then put it back on to simmer. We cooked it down and down until it got thick like mashed potatoes, then stirred in feta and butter and salt to taste.
We sat down together to big, steaming bowls of corn topped with eggplant. It was one of the best things I've had in weeks—rich but not overdone, full of fresh, bright flavors. The polenta was billowy, almost like pudding, and the eggplant sauce gave it texture and cut the sweetness of the corn. It was comfort food at its best—the first taste of longer nights and cooler days.
FRESH CORN POLENTA WITH EGGPLANT SAUCE
The texture of the corn polenta is much more similar to mashed potatoes than traditional polenta. It's also lighter than polenta made with dried corn—more water and less starch. Ottolenghi says it tastes like baby food in the best sense of the words, and he's right. It's rich and comforting, and with the eggplant sauce strikes the perfect balance of savory and sweet. This recipe serves 4.
for the eggplant sauce:
2/3 cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
for the polenta:
6 ears corn, husked
2 and 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
First make the eggplant sauce. Warm up the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and fry for 15 minutes, until the cubes take on a nice golden hue. Position a colander over a bowl, dump in the oil and the eggplant, and let the oil drain out. Set it aside for another frying project, or for dipping with toast.
Return the eggplant to the pan and turn the heat back to medium. Add the wine and simmer 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, salt, sugar, and oregano. Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, until you get a nice thick sauce.
Meanwhile, start the polenta. Put the corn and water in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and puree the corn andn water using an immersion blender or food processor. Be sure to process for a while so that the kernel cases break down as much as possible. Return the corn paste to the pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture thickens and gets a consistency like mashed potatoes. Stir in the butter, feta, and salt and cook another 2 minutes.
Spoon the eggplant sauce into bowls and top with warm eggplant sauce. Salad makes a nice accompaniment.