As soon as it starts to get cold outside, I start to crave polenta. It’s not something I eat or make very often but is one of those dishes that is like grits – it just leaves you wanting to go back in for another bite again and again. However, as soon as I bring up my love for polenta, I often get confused looks and questions about what polenta is. It didn’t occur to me that a lot of people didn’t grow up eating polenta, much in the same way I didn’t grow up eating hush puppies or lobster rolls (regrettably, I’ve still never tried either).
So what is polenta? It is essentially boiled cornmeal…doesn’t that sound tasty!? I know, I KNOW, it doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but it is like Italian comfort food and is a perfect vehicle for a meaty sauce like a bolognese, or in this case, a puttanesca. Polenta can take on a variety of forms whether served as a porridge, grilled, or even in polenta cakes!
It is a perfect complement to this pan-friend cauliflower steak and puttanesca. I was once skeptical of the idea of a cauliflower steak, but after ordering one when I ate out recently, I had to marvel at just how flavorful the humble cauliflower could taste! Seared in olive oil and roasted until tender and buttery, cauliflower steaks deserve a spotlight on this blog because they are proof that healthy eating does not have to be boring.
I also chose to serve the cauliflower steak alongside the bold flavors of puttanesca sauce. If you haven’t heard of the sauce, it is a tomato-based sauce packed with olives and capers whose name is even more tantalizing (I’ll let you Google that one). Full of umami notes, this sauce pairs really well with polenta and cauliflower in a stunning vegetarian dish. It also happens to be my favorite pasta sauce, so it just seemed like the obvious choice. I hope it becomes your new favorite sauce too when you try it in this recipe!
Tips for Making this Dish:
- Good Store-bought Puttanesca Sauce: You can find puttanesca sauce in most grocery stores sandwiched between jarred Pomodoro and bolognese sauces in the pasta aisle. If you make pasta sauce on the regular and are a “maestro” in the sauce world, by all means, sauce away! However, store-bought sauce works just as well. If you go the store-bought route, I recommend finding a puttanesca that is nice and chunky to build on the textures of this dish. You can also add in halved cherry tomatoes and kalamata or Castelvetrano olives to ensure you achieve a robust sauce as well!
- Instant Polenta: To save time, look for instant polenta in a box (you don’t want the kind that comes pre-made in a tube), and not only will you be able to achieve home-style Italian cooking in minutes, but you’ll have enough polenta to last you the entire year. If you have never made polenta before, beware of overcooking it. In a matter of seconds, polenta can go from a looser, porridge-like consistency to a gloopy mush. To prevent this from happening, once you notice the polenta starts to thicken, remove from the heat, and continue to stir until at the desired consistency.
- Use a Cast-Iron Skillet: This recipe is designed to be made in a cast-iron skillet given how well it retains heat and the fact that you can safely transfer it to the oven to finish roasting the cauliflower. if you do not have a cast-iron skillet, you could substitute it with oven-roasted cauliflower florets. I would not, however, recommend trying to roast an entire cauliflower steak in the oven because it will take ages and won’t produce the same result as pan-searing it in a skillet.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup instant polenta
- 1/4 cup jarred Puttanesca sauce
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees and warming 2 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet over stove-top.
- Remove the green leaves but leave the stem in-tact. Then, slice through the head to create 1 1/2 inch cauliflower steaks. Depending on how many servings you make, you can reserve the extra steaks or set them aside to fry up separately. Note, you will need to add more olive oil to the pan for each steak you fry.
- Once the oil in the skillet is heated, carefully transfer one of the cauliflower steaks to the pan and allow the first side to cook for 5 minutes. Then, flip the steak over and season the cooked side with salt and pepper. Repeat the same process on the other side: cook for 5 minutes, then flip and season with salt and pepper.
- Once both sides of the steak are browned, transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the steak for an additional 12-15 minutes until fork-tender.
- While the cauliflower steak roasts, prepare the polenta according to the instructions on the box and warm up the puttanesca sauce in a small saucepan.
- Remove the cauliflower steak from the oven. Prepare a plate by spooning the polenta onto the plate, followed by the puttanesca, and finally adding the cauliflower steak on top. Enjoy!