Almost two weeks ago now, I woke up with a pain in my jaw. It was strange, but over the course of the day it seemed to get better. But it persisted, insistent on making getting up in the morning all the less pleasant. After talking to my dad to get a long-distance (free) consultation, I made an appointment to get it confirmed–I had somehow pulled a jaw muscle. What’s more it can take a long time to heal, given that (talking and eating sort of being basic human activities) it’s hard to rest your jaw properly the way you could a sprained wrist. My dentist told me to cut up my food really small, to avoid foods requiring lots of chewing, and to generally focus on soft foods. This all sounded familiar: “So essentially I’m a baby starting solid food?”
This admittedly isn’t the greatest of tragedies and I’ll take it over other ailments, but it is, I’m convinced, pretty ridiculous. I’m also pretty sure I’ve isolated the cause–I know that I tend to clench my teeth at night, as apparently more and more of us are doing these days. And my day job probably doesn’t help–while a slightly neurotic personality probably is a necessity for being an attorney, being an attorney is probably not all that salutary for an anxious personality. Ah, the irony.
In any event, the immediate question is, what to eat? An excuse for frequent trips to pinkberry is all well and good, but one cannot live on froyo alone. Really, you can’t. I’m sorry. And I don’t think that’s what the dentist had in mind anyway.
Brainstorming something both pudding-like and savory, and having eaten my fill of hummus, I hit upon an obvious candidate, polenta. Its bright sunshiny color is a perfect antidote to winter, its warmth as comforting as its happy hue. And it’s dentist-approved.
For a while now I’ve been wilting robust winter greens in a deep saute pan and tossing in a generous portion of diced garlic at the end. The garlic retains its hot pungency since it’s only just barely cooked, and is the ideal complement to whatever mix of greenery you have: it stands up to the bitterness of mustard or dandelion greens, and punches up more mild kale or chard. And it’s great as a side, stirred into a soup, or for an impromptu bruschetta. It’s also coaxes a few more days out of fresh produce that is perfectly edible but not so perky.
Marrying gentle, friendly polenta to peppery garlicky greens turns out to be a fantastic combination. A sprinkling of cheese never hurts either.
And now I’ll come to that little matter about microwaving. I’ll admit I’ve been dubious about this method. With all these cookbooks talking about slowly, meditatively, gently, constantly stirring polenta over a gentle flame (in your Tuscan kitchen, ideally), it seemed impossible that nuking it was going to produce anything worth eating–something both lumpy and rubbery, probably, and that’s if you were lucky. But if no less than Harold McGee recommends it, who am I to brush it off? And I’m oh so happy to report that it worked perfectly! I even added a bit of half-and-half because I was feeling sorry for myself. I may have a low bar, or maybe it’s just my ailing jaw, er, talking, but this is looking to be pretty revolutionary a discovery.
I’m still looking forward to graduating to solid foods, but at least there’s a silver lining to be found here somewhere.
Garlicky Greens with Microwave Polenta
- 2-3T olive oil
- 2 dried hot peppers or 1/2t red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2-3 bunches of any mix of sturdy, dark leafy greens (kale, chard, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, dandelion greens)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 cup water
- 1/4c polenta
- pinch salt
- milk, half-and-half, or cream if using (just enough to drizzle)
- shredded strong cheese such as parmesan or asiago
Make the greens: Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep sautee pan with a lid, with the hot pepper if using. Wash and chop the greens, removing any large stems, then put in the pan with any water still clinging to them. Put the lid on, then check after a few minutes and stir the greens down. The bottom layer will have started to collapse. Put the lid back on for a few more minutes, and check again. When the leaves have wilted, turn off the heat, and stir in the garlic.
Make the polenta: Pour 1 cup water into a ceramic bowl, then add the polenta and a pinch of salt. Microwave on high for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove and stir, and drizzle in milk or cream, if using. Return to the microwave and cook an additional 2 1/2 minutes–or less, if your polenta is already quite thick at the halfway mark. Remember that polenta will thicken somewhat as it stands. And make sure to use an oven mitt when you take the polenta out of the microwave. It will be very hot.
Pour the polenta into a serving bowl, and then sprinkle the shredded cheese on top. Then mound your greens on top, and serve.