Italian-inspired vegetarian comfort food
My wonderful soon-to-be sister-in-law and her husband bought me Emiko Davies’s Florentine cookbook a couple of years ago, and I’ve turned to it recently for quarantine inspiration. In addition to being the most visually compelling cookbook on my shelf, Florentine is full of rustic, simple recipes and tidbits of life and history in its namesake city. I’ve been particularly drawn to Davies’s recipes for beans- stewed with herbs, simmered in tomato sauce, or as part of a hearty bowl with polenta and kale.
Prior to reading Florentine, I had never thought to use the leftover liquid from cooking beans as a broth to flavor other dishes. Davies notes that this is common practice in Florence, and it’s really a brilliant way to economize in the kitchen, cutting down on processes and dishes, while reducing waste.
Yesterday was the kind of day that called for a comforting, low-maintenance dinner, so I did a variation of Davies’s Polenta with Tuscan Kale. I had some leftover cannellini beans from the previous night’s dinner, which I had cooked with onions, garlic, sage, and thyme. I’ve taken to salting my beans at the beginning of the cooking process, ever since listening to the beans episode of Tamar Adler’s podcast, Food Actually, and I always store leftovers in their liquid, so they retain their creamy texture and get even more flavorful as they sit.
The original recipe calls for kale and pancetta, but I had neither, so I used spinach and parmesan. This meal is the ultimate in rich, hearty, vegetarian comfort food, and it makes a lot- we ate it again for lunch and we still have leftovers!
Polenta with Spinach and Beans, adapted from Emiko Davies’s Florentine
1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
A pinch or 2 of chili flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 or 2 cups of cooked white beans
1 cup polenta
2 cups of bean cooking liquid or vegetable broth
2 bunches spinach
Parmesan, to finish (optional)
Sauté onion and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for two more minutes. Add bean broth and bring to a boil, then whisk in polenta. Cover and simmer over low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until polenta is thick and creamy. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Stir in beans, and season to taste with salt and chili flakes. Serve in bowls, topped with grated parmesan, if desired.