When I think of what happens when we’re encountered with something foreign, my mind goes in all sorts of directions. What do we truly prefer? Is this specific to the individual? Is it something we’re used to? Is it always a dilemma of safe vs. dangerous? How often are we open to new circumstances or surroundings, as we are hit with them constantly on a day by day, no, second by second basis. New options, new ideas, new people, and a frequent in my life especially, new foods. Which I try and experience all the time. Nothing is off limits, ever, including tons of cheese rinds aka pure mold or fresh sausages made with blood. I open myself up like a venus fly trap, always ready to capture new dishes, new cultures, new ways of life, and new people. But although I might venture off the beaten path, I always end up coming back to my food home.
And although I grew up eating absolutely exquisite homemade Cuban and Honduran food made by grandmothers and my mom, and plates of rice and beans, maduros and tostones, bistec empanizado, tortillas con queso, mantequilla y frijoles were frequent and abundant, Italian food is really where it’s at for me. I try new things all the time, only to end up coming back to what I truly love. Tomatoey. Eggplanty. Cheesy. Italian food, I love you.
A dish like this is really perfection for me. I’m in love with polenta, and learning how to make homemade versions of everything on this planet, as if some literal earth shattering Armageddon or apocalypse was always on the horizon. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I made polenta from real corn and not cornmeal because it ended up being heaven on earth. Normal polenta is wonderful, but this one from scratch was just Godly. It was super sweet with corn flavor, hit with salty jewels of cheese that explode at the right timing as you chew. It was softer than normal polenta, but with a heartier chew from the real corn kernels as opposed to tiny, microscopic bits of cornmeal, if that makes sense.
If that wasn’t enough, it’s topped with an eggplant marinara, which just elevates this dish to the ends of our vast Universe. This dish is a little time consuming and effortful, yes, but so are the best things in life. Trust me. Make it. You’ll end up wandering off into new territory, only to end up coming back home to where you belong: with a plate of luscious Italian food in front of you, ready for immediate consumption.
From-scratch sweet corn polenta with eggplant marinara
Adapted from Plenty
Note: I feel like the cheese is necessary in this recipe, but feel free to use whatever sturdy crumbly cheese you want. Goat, manchego, even parmesan could work.
For the eggplant marinara
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
¼ cup white wine
1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 ½ tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
For the polenta
6 ears of corn
2 ¼ cups water
3 tablespoons butter, diced
8 ounces feta, crumbled
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
Make the eggplant sauce
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the eggplant on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until nicely browned. Drain off as much oil as you can and discard it. Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for one minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for 5 more minutes. Set aside and warm it up when needed
Make the polenta
Remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels. You have 1 ¼ pounds of kernels.
Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the water. Cook for about 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to life the kernels from the water and into a food processor, reserving the cooking liquid. Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
Return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. Fold in the butter, feta, salt, and some pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce in the center. Eat!