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Somewhere down the line, polenta picked up a reputation for being laborious to make. This is simply not true. Polenta doesn’t take an hour to cook—25 to 30 minutes is plenty—and contrary to recipes that insist it must be stirred constantly, stirring it once every couple of minutes will do the job just fine. While stirring, though, be sure to run the spoon along the bottom and sides of the pot so the polenta doesn’t stick and scorch. The individual grains should be tender yet retain a bit of texture, and the final consistency should be that of a thick soup.
2 ears corn
4 cups filtered water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal or polenta (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter stick
1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes (see Note)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Porcini Mushroom-Bordelaise Sauce (recipe follows)
To prepare the corn:
Shuck the corn and pull off the corn silk strands; leave the stems on if you have them—they make great handles. Put the corn directly on a gas burner over high heat and char, turning often, until well blackened in spots but not completely burnt; the corn tends to pop like popcorn. (If you don’t have a gas stove, roast the corn on a baking sheet in a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.) Remove the corn from the heat.
When the corn is cool enough to handle
Using a sharp knife, cut off the stems and then cut off the kernels from the cobs. You should have about 2 cups kernels. Set aside.
To prepare the polenta:
Bring the water and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, then reduce the heat to medium-low, switch to a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring often, until the polenta is very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.
Fold in the charred corn
Reserving a handful for garnish, and cook and stir for 5 minutes to heat through. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter substitute, almond milk, and nutritional yeast flakes until incorporated. Season with the pepper.
Divide the polenta among shallow bowls, spoon the mushroom sauce over the top, and garnish with the reserved corn.
Nutritional Yeast Flakes
Nutritional yeast may not sound like the most appetizing ingredient, but it has a cheesy, nutty, savory quality that gives any dish extra oomph. Just a tablespoon or two adds a creamy, salty richness to dips, soups, and sauces. Look for nutritional yeast flakes in the supplement section of the market or health food store. Be sure to select flakes instead of granules, which will deliver a bit of texture to whatever you add them to.
Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.