Sweet corn polenta with broccoli pesto

August 19, 2012 § 27 Comments

Was I the one grumping up a storm and hemming and hawing over what to do with the sheer quantity of summer produce around?  Me?  Well, I take it all back!  Every word of it! It never happened.  I never said it.

Now I’m like all those guys in all those movies, running after the train as it pulls out of the station, crying, “waaaaaiiit!!!!”  Because my true love is on that train.  Except, the train is actually summer.  And my love?  Sweet corn polenta.

In a long line of obsessions, sweet corn polenta is my latest.  It has taken over our diet in the last couple of weeks, just as sweet corn season is winding down (sad face).  Kimchi tacos are still at the tippy top of my favorite things ever list for the moment, and a most exciting delivery of delicious treats from a friend in Hawaii has skyrocketed passion fruit ginger jam up to join the tacos in first place.  (I may become totally open to genetically modified foods if someone can figure out a way to create a passion fruit plant that will generate fruit in northern Minnesota.  Anyone?)  But, sweet corn polenta is breathing down their necks.

I’ve been convinced that turning sweet corn into a polenta is a brilliant move ever since I saw it in Plenty a couple years ago.  But, I never quite got around to making Ottolenghi’s version because he asks you to go through some acrobatics – slicing off kernels, cooking, pureeing the hot corn, etc. – that I somehow couldn’t work up the activation energy to get through.  (This from the woman who likes finicky tart crusts and will puree hot soups  faster than you can say “veloute” if the whim strikes.  I never said I was logical.)

But then, then I saw several different recipes for sweet corn polenta that called for grating the kernels off.  And that’s it.  Just grating the kernels off on a box grater, no extra slicing or blending.  My world was revolutionized.

Perhaps to you grating a bunch of corn cobs doesn’t sound like less work than blending kernels, but in my bizarre little world where the assessment of how much work something is is directly proportional to how much noise it creates, a world, for example, where hand whisking whipped cream is easier than hauling out the Kitchen Aid, it definitely sounded like an easy peasy solution.  And indeed it is.  Even if you don’t live in the same strange world as me, you’ll find that a box grater makes remarkably quick work of ears of corn, and the only real hazard (since the cobs stand solidly between the grater and your knuckles) is that you will get some splatters of corn juice on your face and in your hair.  That’s just the way these things go.  It’s a small price, I promise.

After the corn has been grated to a pulpy mass, all you need to do is heat a knob of butter or a spoonful of olive oil, then stir the corn in and keep stirring for just a few minutes as it starts to lightly bubble and thicken.  You will be rewarded with a creamy golden porridge, soft and comforting like your standard polenta, but with a taste that is the essence of sweet corn.  Pure, pure corn.  A single note, it rings sweet corn like a chime from a bell, clear and unadulterated.

And then you get to adulterate the heck out of it!  Adding whatever toppings your spirit and/or market basket guide you toward.  You could top it off with shrimp as though it were grits, or with a shellfish stew.  You could add a runny egg, or fruit and honey, and call it breakfast.  You could add grilled vegetables or pieces of chorizo.  We’ve had it with a tomatoey eggplant ragu (as the polenta is served in Plenty), Parmesan, eggs, mushrooms, lamb, fish, and now broccoli pesto.

Why, of all things, broccoli pesto?  Well, I had decided I wanted to swirl pesto atop our most recent bowls of polenta, and we happened to have some broccoli.  And the fact of the matter is, you can make pesto out of anything.  If it is greenish and herbal or vegetal, it can fall to the food processor blade in combination with garlic, olive oil, nut or seed, and cheese and become pesto.  Some combinations may be a bit tastier than others, but as long as the garlic and olive oil are in there, it’s likely to be pretty good.

The broccoli version of pesto, admittedly, looks a bit like mulch in shades of prom dress, but it tastes exceptional.  To the traditional fragrance of basil – which I did include a handful of – broccoli adds some of its characteristic bitter and sweet cruciferous heft.  Basically, it tastes like pesto and then some.  I opted not to stir in grated Parmesan with the pesto in favor of gently stirring in some crumbled feta right before serving.  You can add cheese however you like, or even skip it.  Either way the pesto will be an excellent topping for the glorious polenta.

It’s a meal on its own or a standout end of summer side dish.  A worthy end for every last ear of corn you can get your hands on before the train chugs out of sight.

Sweet Corn Polenta with Broccoli Pesto (Serves about 4)


  • 6 -8 ears of corn, husks removed
  • 1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
  • salt
  1. Grate the kernels off of each ear of corn using the large holes on a box grater.
  2. Heat the butter or olive oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan, add the grated corn and cook over medium-high heat, stirring pretty much constantly, until it thickens, just 3-5 minutes, or so.  Add salt to taste.  Serve in bowls topped with whatever pleases you, for example, broccoli pesto…

Broccoli pesto

  • about 2 cups, chopped broccoli stems and florets
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • about 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • about 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 oz. of grated Parmesan or 2 oz. crumbled Feta
  1. Either steam or cook the broccoli in boiling water until just becoming tender, about 5 minutes, then drain.
  2. Put the broccoli, garlic clove, and basil leaves in a food processor along with the squeeze of lemon juice (if using) and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Process until finely chopped.  Scrape down the sides.  Then, turn the processor on and with it running, drizzle in olive oil until the pesto reaches a spread-like consistency (it will be on the thick side).
  3. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.  If using Parmesan, stir it in, but if you’re using crumbled feta wait and stir this in just before serving.  Serve atop the polenta.  You can also use the pesto on sandwiches, in pasta, as a dip, wherever!  It should keep for a few days in the fridge in an airtight container but its color may change a bit.

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