Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze

Close your eyes, and breathe. 

Breathe in through your nose, ticking the seconds away, one through ten. Exhale through your nose, concentrated yet powerful, as if trying to fog up a mirror. Slow your heart rate, and settle the mind. 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

The calming message came to me via my leather-bound planner, printed long before anyone would know I would need that gentle reminder this very week, when raining seems to be pouring, and stress creeps at all corners, even seeping into my dreams. “Yes” is like an invasive species, it looks beautiful, like a canopy of purple, fragrant flowers, then before you know it, it’s a chokehold, leaving little space in its wake. I’ve said yes to a lot lately. 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

There are experts, and books, and books by experts that advise saying no to almost everything. There are experts, and books, and books by experts that advise saying yes to almost everything. Seizing opportunities, building and growing a business and a brand, and strengthening a relationship… why wouldn’t I say yes to those? 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

Although it’d be convenient if all these “yes” opportunities spread evenly over a plain, over an expanse of neatly ordered blocks of time, that’s not my world. My forecast tends to alternate between 0% precipitation and 100% chance of a downpour, and I can handle that. I might even thrive off some of that chaos, but the key to it all is remembering what my leather-bound planner so conveniently wanted to remind me: I gotta pause, pop open an umbrella and take a damn breath! Maybe, just maybe, there’s part of the storm that can be pushed away, that isn’t really worthwhile, but I’ll never know unless I pause in the thick of a puddle. 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

That’s where I am- pausing in a deep puddle, but I made this meal where I was- at Blue Moon Rising, in a tiny house style cabin, with a tiny kitchen, and a corner seat where I watched the downpour rock the old, monumental trees back and forth, as if creating archways over the forest. The trees withstood their storms, and I will withstand my own because they are, after all, storms of my own choosing. 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

These recipes, if you can call them recipes, are the intuitive sort, steeped in my first attempts at cooking, when onions and garlic and tomatoes first started coming together loosely, like baby steps. They’re perfect for pausing, whether you’re in a secluded little cabin or in the thick of stress puddles and meltdowns. 

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

These intuitive, imprecise, no-fail recipes have roots- a hint of Italian here and then a nod to the Mediterranean and Middle East there. One night’s dinner becomes another day’s meal, so the kitchen can keep stress at bay, and for but a moment, there is a rich red sauce and a nutty simplicity. There is familiarity and maybe a little clarity. There is a long inhale, a slow exhale and a fogged mirror. There is a mind that reverts to a corner sitting spot, with a calming view of trees in motion.  

Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze // www.WithTheGrains.com

The other little tidbit my planner prescribed to me (via Walt Whitman)? “Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”

Here’s to all the right yeses and a million universes!


Vegetarian Polenta “Bolognese” with Garlic Flatbreads + Leftovers Mezze

About this Recipe: Polenta with a little extra herbs and salty parmesan, a tomato sauce with lentils and sweet, soft garlic are the backbone of this dinner idea. These recipes are loose guides. Simply use what you have on hand for the sauce and follow your instincts, but add lentils for an easy, affordable meaty flavor. Then pair the leftover red sauce with another batch of garlic flatbreads, hummus, tahini sprinkled with za’atar, olives, raw fennel, radishes, or whatever crudités you have on hand, for a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern inspired Mezze.  

Garlic Flatbreads
serves 2

Ingredients

2 whole grain pitas
2-3 Tablespoons butter
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Herbs de Provence

Directions

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. As the butter begins to melt, add the garlic. Stirring frequently, continue to heat until the garlic is golden and soft. Remove from heat.

Note: Skip cleaning out the pan. You can use the buttered and garlic pan for preparing the lentil bolognese.

Spoon the garlic and melted butter over the flatbread(s). Sprinkle with herbs de provence, and as the polenta and sauce are finishing, toast lightly in a toaster oven or oven until warm.


Vegetarian Lentil “Bolognese”
serves 6* (*or 2, plus leftovers for a Mezze style meal)

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons organic avocado oil
12 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves (or more), minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
2 cups water

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked through

2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions

In large sauce pan or cast iron skillet, heat avocado oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, red bell pepper and onion. Cook until vegetables are very brown and soft, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes, water, lentils, and seasoning.

Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, prepare the polenta. Add more water, as needed, if the sauce gets too thick.


Parmesan & Herb Polenta
Serves 4

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons organic avocado oil
1 cup organic quick-cooking polenta (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
3 oz. (~ ⅓ cup) grated Parmesan, divided
Herbs de Provence, to taste, plus more for garnish

Directions

Prepare polenta according to package directions. Stir in 1 oz. parmesan; season with Herbs de Provence.

Divide polenta among bowls; top with remaining 2 oz. parmesan. Serve with red sauce & garlic flatbreads.


Enjoy!

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    • You can substitute another oil. I’d aim for a high-heat oil, like a non-gmo safflower. I tend to use olive oil mainly for dipping/dressing, since there seems to be growing evidence that it loses its health properties once it reaches its smoke point. I don’t pretend to be able to explain the chemistry of it, so I’ve just played it safe and switched when I use olive oil.