Polenta with greens gives you so many things to love—creamy comfort, hearty greens, salty Parmesan and the umami bite of anchovies. All that, in less than an hour? Darn right.
There is a moment as we come into fall when I end up with a serious greens problem. Whereas the bounty in my kitchen once lived on the counter in the form of piles of USE-ME-RIGHT-NOW tomatoes and melons, we’re into the sweet frost-kissed kale and the flowering broccoli rabe. Now there are so many beets, each bunch crowned with red-ribbed leaves, as well as kohlrabi and turnip greens, Swiss chard and spicy mustards—all shoved into the fridge precariously, one on top of the other, squeezed between the beer and the yogurt and the leftovers. There are days that I come home from working at the market with bags and bags of them. I don’t want to compost good food, and I’m sure I’ll think of some way to use all these greens.
This super-simple and adaptable dish is the solution. It cooks down and makes use of a large quantity of greens, and the more kinds you combine, the better. This also makes a great breakfast, and I won’t argue if you fry an egg for the very top. I also love to give pasta this treatment—I cook the greens the same way and stir them into fettuccine.–Alana Chernila
Polenta With Greens
- 7 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups polenta
- Kosher salt
- 3 to 4 bunches fresh hearty greens (kale, Swiss chard, beet or turnip greens, kohlrabi greens, etc.) (1 1/2 lbs | 680 g) stemmed if necessary, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
- 8 to 10 olive-oil-packed anchovies* rinsed and finely chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 3/4 cup panko or rough homemade bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a medium pot over high heat, bring 6 cups of the water to a boil. Add the polenta and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, stirring gently to distribute the grains through the water.
- Decrease the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta loses its graininess, 35 to 40 minutes. If the polenta becomes very thick, gradually add the remaining cup of water during the final 10 minutes of cooking.
- While the polenta cooks, bring a second large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the greens, bring the water back to a boil, decrease the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until the greens are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: The greens will lose a significant amount of volume as they cook, but if it is easier, go ahead and cook the greens in batches, using a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked greens to a colander before starting the next batch.
- Scoop out a cup of cooking water and reserve, then drain the greens in a colander. Return the pot to the stove.
- In the same pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the anchovies and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, if using, and decrease the heat to medium-low.
- Add the bread crumbs to the anchovies and let them toast, stirring often, until they turn golden and soak up any remaining butter, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring often to prevent the bread crumbs from burning. Spoon the breadcrumb mixture into a small bowl and return the pot to medium heat.
- Return the drained greens to the pot. Stir in the olive oil, three-quarters of the Parmesan, three-quarters of the bread-crumb mixture, plenty of fresh pepper, and a splash of the greens’ cooking water.
- Spoon the polenta into a large wide bowl or divvy between individual serving bowls and top with the remaining Parmesan. Spoon the greens over the polenta, and sprinkle the remaining breadcrumb mixture over the top.
*DO I HAVE TO USE ANCHOVIES IN MY POLENTA WITH GREENS?If you’re not yet an anchovy lover, we urge you not to let that ingredient scare you away here. They’re very mellow and contribute a rich saltiness that’s hard to identify. We like to buy our anchovies in large round jars packed in oil. They last a long time in the pantry, and the salty oil is a bonus ingredient. As our Senior Tester Chiyo Ueyama said, “We enjoyed the ocean-y saltiness of anchovies (they’re NOT fishy—I cannot stress that enough).” Try it, you might like it.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Delicious! How could butter, anchovies, garlic and cheese be bad? I thought the polenta with greens might still be bland even with the topping, but it was spot on, just salty enough.
Don't hesitate to err on the side of making more of the greens mixture, as it is really the star of the recipe. I made this for myself for lunch and now can't wait to make it for my husband!
This polenta with greens is a delicious, comforting dish that comes together in under an hour. The ingredient list is short, with many of them probably already in your pantry. Don’t let the anchovies scare you away! Because the anchovies are rinsed their flavor is extremely subtle and not fishy. This dish is perfect for any dinner, though it's especially nice on a cold or crisp one when you want something that will warm you through.
This dish is full of robust flavors, and the creamy polenta serves as a wonderful vehicle for them. We enjoyed the ocean-y saltiness of anchovies (they're NOT fishy—I cannot stress that enough), along with the nutty Parmesan cheese and garlic, all of which complemented the hearty greens extremely well. The greens of my choice were Swiss chard and the widely available curly kale (2 bunches each).
Due to their volume and varied toughness, I blanched them separately (chard/3 minutes, kale/5 minutes; I didn't ‘shock’ them in ice water, but did just slightly squeeze out the water). Pre-cooking made the kale succulent and gave the ruffled leaves a tender mouthfeel that suited the polenta.
I made the polenta with greens twice and tweaked one thing on the second try, and I liked the result. The first time I made it I didn’t like the breadcrumbs getting too mushy after they were put back into the pan. So, the second time, I reserved the entire breadcrumb/anchovy mixture until after the cooked greens were transferred to a serving bowl, then I topped them with the golden breadcrumbs and a quarter of the cheese. One pointer on polenta: when you first put it into boiling water, stir constantly using a whisk before covering the pot to keep any lumps from forming.
The flavor of this dish is really good (although some thought it was just ok.) It was also relatively easy to make—although using the same pots/pans made it a little hard to do in parallel. We served the polenta with greens with pork chops.
Had serious doubts about the polenta but it came out better than my own. It was soft, and delicate and frankly, perfect. I'll keep this recipe for polenta with greens close at hand as we eat polenta often. The greens with a little of the water they cooked in to create a bit of sauce would be terrific on pasta.
Originally published April 7, 2021.