Last year I had the opportunity to attend a mushroom event in Dallas where we were provided a cooking demo by Chef Kent Rathburn of Abacus restaurant.
My favorite dish of the event was a polenta cake with mushroom ragu. A few weeks after the event I received the recipe for the polenta with mushroom ragu and have made it a few times to great acclaim. While the mushroom ragu is lovely, I love the polenta part of the recipe best of all. I love it so much I decided to play around with the idea of polenta cakes in general. I am somewhat addicted to the dual textures of crisp and creamy and the flavor is fantastic when prepared very simply.
What I came up with is something that is attainable on a weeknight if you do a little planning ahead, and it is exactly the kind of meal I would be happy to come home to. This is also a good meal for company because it tastes like a million bucks and it is striking on the plate. You can make the polenta and tomato sauce in advance then, on the night you plan to serve, just roast the chicken, sear the polenta, and reheat the sauce. Despite the length of the recipe, it is as easy as can be!
Pan Seared Polenta with Chicken and Tomato Sauce Serves 4
For the polenta:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup quick cooking polenta
For the Sauce:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon dry thyme
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1 can whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh grated parmesan cheese
For the Chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Non-stick cooking spray
Fresh grated parmesan cheese
Begin by preparing the polenta. Spray an 8″x8″ pan with non-stick spray.
Heat the olive oil a medium size pot over medium heat. Once it shimmers add the onions and cook until they soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for thirty seconds.
Add the broth and the butter and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Whisk in the polenta and cook until very thick, about five minutes. Pour the polenta into the prepared pan and refrigerate for thirty minutes, or up to two days.
Heat the oven to 375 F and line a sheet pan with foil.
Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Roll the thigh into itself and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F.
While the chicken roasts prepare the sauce.
In a medium pot heat the oil over medium heat. Once it shimmers add the onion and garlic cloves and cook until they soften, about three minutes.
Add the red pepper, fennel, thyme, and oregano and cook for thirty seconds, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the tomato paste, and the sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Return to the pot and cook over medium-low heat until it reduces by 1/3. Add the grated parmesan and stir well.
Once the polenta has chilled cut into your desired serving size. Prepare a skillet with non-stick cooking spray and heat it over medium-high heat.
Add the polenta and cook until golden brown, about three minutes per side.
While the polenta sears place the chicken in the simmering tomato sauce to keep warm.
To serve, spoon the sauce on your plate, top with the polenta and chicken. Garnish with some fresh grated cheese.