DISH: Polenta with Fried Capers, Red Peppers, and an Egg
TYPE: There’s-nothing-in-the-house-to-eat Lunch or Dinner
MAIN INGREDIENT: Polenta, Red Peppers, Capers, Egg
Has this ever happened to you–that there’s absolutely nothing in the house to eat? Either it’s been a while since you’ve gone shopping, or you’ve arrived at a weekend or rental house and the cupboards are bare. As likely as not, all the stores are closed, you’re snowed in, or you’re simply too lazy to go out.
But because I live in an apartment of ingredients where there’s very little food you could grab and go with anyway, the plaintive “there’s nothing in the house to eat” is usually a lie. While it may be true that there’s not anything I could stuff in my mouth at the moment of hunger, there is usually an ingredient or two that can be whipped up into a fairly good dinner.
A pantry stocked with rice and pasta, canned tomatoes and beans, lentils and oats is one that’ll supply you with the sustenance when you’re out of the easy go to’s. In our book, we joke that if you own a bottle opener and a can opener, you can always have a meal, and though we’re not actually the types to fork Great Northerns from can to mouth, we may very well cook an onion in some olive oil, add garlic, thyme, and that can of beans, and have a perfectly acceptable Mediterranean dinner for one in practically no time.
A while back I was in a “there’s nothing to eat” bind. There was no milk or cereal, no bread or cheddar (grilled cheese, you’ll probably know if you’ve been reading here for a while, is my go to whether or not there’s other food in the larder). There was pasta but no sauce or parm, and only the smallest nub of butter. Growing desperate, I considered the cookies stashed in the freezer.
But then I found a bag of polenta. Despite its appearance on fancy restaurant menus, to me polenta is comfort food. A good start. What to have with it though?
Here’s where luck came in. In rapid succession, I found: an unopened jar of roasted red pepper, some capers that didn’t look too old, and an egg. Suddenly my plain yellow polenta was brightened up by real vegetables and even protein! Twenty minutes of stirring, poaching, and frying later, I sat down to an unbelievable meal. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d actually shopped for the ingredients on purpose.
From my kitchen, where you never know what you’ll find on the shelves, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Soft Polenta with an Egg, Red Peppers, and Fried Capers
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons rinsed and chopped roasted red peppers
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and patted dry.
Bring the water to a boil in a very small saucepan over high heat. Turn the heat to low, add a pinch of salt, then slowly pour in the polenta, stirring all the while. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, until the polenta has absorbed the water. Stir in the butter and taste for salt, adding more as needed.
Make a well in the middle of the pot and crack the egg into it. Sprinkle with salt, then cover the pot and let cook for 5-6 minutes, until the whites of the egg are just starting to set.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add one caper. When it sizzles, add the rest of the capers and cook for about 1 minute, shaking the pan to distribute the capers. They will burn easily, so keep an eye on them.
Pour the hot capers and olive oil over the top of the egg and polenta. This will cook the top of the egg–it should turn white. Sprinkle with the chopped roasted peppers and serve immediately.