Luke had a friend over the other day to play some board games and badminton. At lunch time I called the boys in and presented them with this dish. The young boy looked at his plate, looked at me and said "what is this?" I explained it was polenta and while he wasn't obligated to eat it, I hoped he would at least try it. He said, "well it's better than the green pancakes you served me last time!" Now to be fair, the pancakes in question were in fact these broccoli fritters, which are mighty tasty, but you can't blame him for being a little nervous about coming to the lunch table.
For each of the kids I presented their polenta on plates unadorned. The kids could pick which toppings they wanted or none at all. In addition to the squash, arugula and tomatoes, I put out some steamed carrots, crumbled sausage and shredded asiago cheese. Don and I both ate ours as the recipe was intended, but the kids all tried different variations of toppings. We often have meals where each person can select their own ingredients, whether it's a salad bar, stir fry or baked potatoes with toppings. The key to success seems to be giving them choice. So, the end result with the polenta? They all loved it! Luke's friend said "that is surprisingly delicious and filling!"
A few notes about the recipe. The delicata squash are known by multiple names. When I was trying to find them, I sent a message to a local farmer asking if he had delicata squash in stock. He tells me they are more commonly called sweet potato squash here in Ontario. With an edible skin, they are very quick to prepare and bake quickly too. The cornmeal I used was labelled "cornmeal for polenta" but I suspect any cornmeal would work. The frequent stirring in the oven was key to avoiding lumps, so don't skip that step. If you use a homeade stock, you will likely need to add salt to the recipe. Boxed stocks are generally fairly salty and I've adjusted the recipe to contain very little salt with this in mind. If you have any leftover polenta you can pour it into a baking dish and refrigerate for another day. Simply slice the leftover polenta and fry in a little butter with toppings of your choice!
To make polenta: Preheat oven to 350degrees. In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion and cook for about 5 min. Add the garlic and reduce heat to low. Saute for 1-3min more, careful not to burn garlic or onions. Add the stock and turn up to high, bringing to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal while whisking continually. Once all cornmeal is added, cover pot and put in oven for 25-35min, stirring every ten minutes. When the mixture is creamy and lump free, remove from oven and add the butter. Once incorporated, add the Parmesan gradually. Top with vegetables below.
To make vegetables: Cover a large baking pan with 3 Tbsp olive oil. Toss squash in oil and lay tomatoes on pan cut side up. Sprinkle salt and pepper on squash and tomatoes. Place in oven and roast for approximately 20min, flipping the squash after 10min. Remove from oven and reserve.
In a small bowl, whisk together 3Tbsp oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Toss with arugula and reserve.
To serve: put approximately 1/2 cup polenta on plate, top with arugula salad and roasted squash and tomatoes. Enjoy!