Creamy Polenta Dinner

We finished this book, but the girls’ interest in all things relating to “life on the prairie” has yet to wane.  Firecracker had been asking all through the book, “What does salt pork taste like?”, so when we were in the area, we decided to visit the butcher at our local New Seasons to find some.

He didn’t exactly have salt pork, but recommended some locally made bacon that was very salty, not sweet, and contained no nitrites or dyes.  He said it tasted very different from packaged bacon – much more like salt pork.  We ended up buying the bacon ends, because they were $2/lb less expensive, and for our needs, they would work perfectly.  So, $2 later, we left the store with our “salt pork” and headed home.

Now, the Ingalls family also ate a LOT of cornmeal, so we did a little recipe search to find a cornmeal dish we would all want to eat.  We settled on creamy polenta.  I know it isn’t exactly what they would have eaten, because it had cheese, and was served with a tomato and bell pepper sauce, but it looked good to the three of us.  I wasn’t about to spend an hour and a half making a dish of which the girls wouldn’t eat more than one or two bites!

To make this dinner you will need:

1 lb organic, no nitrite local bacon ends or salt pork, finely chopped

5 large shallots, minced

1 clove garlic, minced (I actually used elephant garlic, because it’s what I had on hand)

3 cups whole milk

7 cups cold water

1 bay leaf

1 cup shredded, hard, aged cheese (I used asiago, because it was on sale cheap!)

one large handful of kale or spinach

1 jar homemade spaghetti sauce

1 roma tomato, chopped

1 roasted red bell pepper, skin removed, and finely chopped

1 avocado sliced right before serving (because I had one on hand, you could add parsley or shredded cheese as a garnish instead, if that’s what you have on hand.)

Directions – First, very finely cube and then fry the bacon ends in the dutch oven.  Drain off and save the fat in the fridge (so good for cooking omelettes or hash browns) .  Set fried bacon off to the side. Add the shallots and garlic to the dish and cook on med. until caramelized.  Remove them, and set next to the bacon.

I used this basic creamy polenta recipe, but substituted 3 cups whole milk for half of the 6 cups of water.  I added the water/milk combo straight to the pot that had cooked the bacon, and therefore omitted the salt, because the bacon was quite salty. 

After the polenta finishes cooking, stir in 1 cup shredded cheese and one big handful of kale (from our garden) cut in a fine chiffonade.  Leave covered, on low heat until ready to serve.

While the polenta is cooking, in a separate pot, heat the sauce, plus tomato, red pepper, cooked shallots/garlic, and half of the bacon.

Serve the polenta with sauce on top, and garnish with more bacon and the sliced avocado.  

We ate half of the polenta for dinner, and the other half was poured into a 9×9 greased baking dish, and tomorrow, when it is set up after a night in the fridge, we will cut it up and panfry it for dinner.

Obviously, if you wanted a vegetarian dinner, simply omit the bacon/salt pork, and increase the salt.  You could serve it with cannelini beans for sufficient protein.

The girls enjoyed the dinner, but we talked about how Laura and Mary would have eaten something similar (sans tomato sauce) for breakfast, lunch and dinner most days while they lived on the prairie.   Little Hen said she sure was grateful for the variety in our diet.  She’s so right – we as Americans in the 21st century really are blessed to have such a huge selection of foods to enjoy.

Next on our Little House menu?  A good friend sent us this book for St. Nicholas’ day, so I’m sure there will be many more dishes to try!  The girls would like to make rabbit stew.  Hmm…where to get a rabbit in the middle of Portland without paying an arm and a leg?

1 thought on “Creamy Polenta Dinner”

  1. Hi Angela,
    As I’ve been reading about how your girls love Laura Ingalls Wilder I am reminded of my own childhood. When we moved to Kansas I was 8 and one of the first things we did was go see the ‘little house on the prairie.’ We got a gingerbread recipe when we were there. I’ve been making it ever since. I know it’s in that cookbook, give it a shot some time. 🙂

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