Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

Hello, is anyone out there? After a lengthy absence I am back with some recipes! I doubt anyone will see this after so long, but I’ve been cooking up a storm lately and decided to post if for no other reason to give myself ideas at some future date when I’m not feeling as creative.

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent the time since my last post, which I see was just after “the election”, in a state of deep depression, stress, and anxiety. Much of it was directly related to the election and continues to this day, and will undoubtedly continue through 2020, although some of it was due to personal reasons. The good news is I’m feeling better personally. (Though still feel increasingly terrible as an American.) Dark as my days may have been, I never stopped wanting to cook, and I frequently made really good stuff, but I wouldn’t say I was being particularly explorative when cooking over the last couple of years. Occasionally a friend would tell me I should post something here, but I either didn’t agree the meal warranted a post or just didn’t have the wherewithal to get around to it.

I moved into my third new place in three years in California a few weeks ago. I’m sill in the Bay Area (I’ve barely moved a mile each time), but have downsized to a slightly more affordable condo as opposed to the single family houses Mark and I shared. I wasn’t sure how the transition to a multi-family building would be for me, and there are still some things I’m getting used to, but I wasn’t expecting to get as extra-excited about cooking as I have! Especially since although I REALLY lucked out regarding the size of my kitchen, the electric stove top is vintage to the 1983 building construction and it’s a freakin’ mess! (The double oven, though, is brand new!) Ironically, the stove is probably partially responsible for my recent cooking zeal because it “forced” me to buy an induction burner, which I’ve wanted for years, and use it for most of my cooking, AND I LOVE IT. I should have bought one a long time ago: if nothing else it would have saved me from the ten times I’ve let my homemade soy milk boil over when making yogurt!

I’ve been more consistently going to farmers markets lately, and being at farmers markets makes me intensely happy. I come home with a basket full of produce, eager to turn it into delicious meals. My meals have become a little more imaginative and healthy than they were. I’ve never actually eaten badly, by any means, and maybe it’s just the summer season with all its bounty, but I feel like I’m just eating fresher and healthier than ever before. I’m actually overwhelmed with ideas and meals I want to make! As I said, I thought maybe I’d try to document some of them here, because I know these things come and go in phases and in a few months I might not be feeling quite as imaginative or excited. So to that end, here is last night’s…

Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

One trend in my meals of late has been roasting vegetables, making some sort of whole grain or grains, concocting some new sauce, grabbing handfuls of fresh herbs, and serving a one-bowl meal of it. I scored a huge bunch of basil for $1.50 at the market yesterday, so I made pesto. Although I have been doing a lot of experimenting lately, I actually made a very traditional pesto, although for me THAT was experimental because as a vegan, I’ve never actually made pesto exactly as you’re supposed to, since obviously I don’t eat cheese. I really like Follow Your Heart’s vegan parmesan, though, so I used that.

1 cup whole grain polenta-ground corn
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 zuchinni or summer squash, sliced
1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cup pesto (homemade is best, but Trader Joe’s sells a vegan version)
3 Tbsp corn relish
vegan parmesan (optional)

I made the polenta in my Instant Pot using these directions, but basically to make it, you put the water in a pot (Instant or otherwise), then slowly whisk in the polenta meal. Then you add salt and cook it until it’s done, stirring often if you are making it on the stove, or on the Porridge –> More setting on the Instant Pot. Both methods probably take the same amount of time when it’s all said and done, but with the Instant Pot method I just walked away from it for half an hour, so that’s easier.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Roast them until they are tender, about 25 minutes.

To serve, scoop some prepared polenta into a shallow bowl. Dollop half the pesto on top. Add the roasted vegetables and dollop the remaining pesto on top of them. Finally top with the corn relish, and if desired garnish with vegan parm. The corn relish I used was my home-canned relish using a recipe from the excellent Saving the Season by Kevin West. If you don’t have corn relish, find some other pickled item to add a “zing” – otherwise maybe just try a little lemon juice. I liked the contrast between the sweet polenta corn and the zip of the corn relish.

I served this with field green salad tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic, Dijon, and salt):

As I’ve eaten ALL my meals lately, I ate this on my balcony, and it felt like being in a particularly cozy restaurant.

Another unexpected thing about my new place is that my favorite “room” is the balcony! (Well, one of the two balconies!) I absolutely love it out here (I’m composing this post from it!). The weather is (almost) always perfect here, so it’s always pleasant to be outside. Here’s a picture taken of my lunch (gumbo!) earlier yesterday: on the table you can see the basil that would shortly become pesto:

I don’t know what it is about this balcony, but I honestly feel like I’m on vacation every time I’m out here. It puts me in a very relaxed state. Since I work from home, I’m able to eat all three meals outside and mentally it’s extremely good for me. I usually read while I eat, or if I want to watch TV or a movie while I eat dinner, I use my tablet. It’s sooo much nicer than what I’ve done for years, which is eat dinner on the sofa (unless we had guests). The only downside to the balcony is I miss the cats, who used to sit on my lap while I ate, but now have to sit by the door and look forlornly out at me since they can’t come out here. But having such a wonderful place to eat is probably another part of the reason I’ve been so into cooking.

I’ve also been canning a lot since I moved. A friend, who had helped me pack my jars last time, came to visit the new place and commented that it looked like I had fewer jars this year than I did last year. So I promptly canned two different kinds of pickles, 40 pints of different soups, chili sauce, and ginger syrup – I must have added at least 75 jars to the shelf since I got here. I should do a post soon on the beautiful jar shelf Fortinbras built me and all the stuff I’ve been canning. I’m currently developing a “gumbo starter” recipe I want to pressure can. (Hence yesterday’s gumbo lunch!)

And in other news, I’m only even more involved in wildlife rehab than I was the last time you heard from me. Because it’s the busy season, I’m working a ton of hours on wildlife-related stuff, several days a week. I’ve also started doing at-home rehab: some baby mammals (I’m actually picking up a batch of 30-gram opossums tonight), but mostly, and my favorite – OWLS! That’s right: I keep owls in my house. It’s amazing. Once the animals I’ve raised and/or healed are ready to go, I usually get to release them myself, so in addition to all the rehab, I’ve been doing a lot of wildlife releases. I’m not allowed to share pictures from inside the hospitals or of rehab patients in my home on social media, so sorry, I can’t post tons of adorable owl pictures, but here is a video of me releasing a white-tailed kite last week:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQWRS8PtU3I

And finally, I’m still trying to hike a few times a week, although I’ve added kayaking and biking to my activities as well. I’m still seeing all kinds of amazing animals when I go out! A friend and I came across this Great Horned owl fledgling in Redwood Regional Park last week.

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