When I was young, I was fiercely interested in everything my Grandma did. She was an amazing woman. She was a Vermonter to the bone, she hooked the most beautiful rugs you’ve ever seen, and most importantly, she cooked SO many delicious things. Better yet, she had a lot of great tricks for how to NOT be wasteful (she grew up during the Depression, mind you!). I always found it fascinating, and it really puts things into perspective.
For example, she showed me how to use leftover pie crust trimmings. She would cut them into triangle shapes, place them on a baking sheet and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over them. Then she’d pop them into the oven and in a few minutes’ time, they’d come out as wonderful delicious little cookies. What a treat for the cook! (And the cook’s granddaughter.)
That’s really just a taste of what she taught me. Pun intended.
I still, to this day, cook her chili recipe. It’s perfect, just the way it is. It’s award-winning. No really, it’s actually award-winning. I made it for a chili cook-off in college and I won. Boo-yah. (It doesn’t matter that the cook-off only had 3 competitors, right?)
I think about her often when I cook. She’s not here anymore, but I feel as though I channel her through my cooking.
I remember something she told me once. It was so silly and insignificant, so I’m not sure why I remember it so vividly. She said, “If the bottom of the pot burns, just don’t stir it.”
She must have seriously burnt things. Bad. Like, blackened, beyond repair. But in order to avoid wasting anything, she had to salvage the meal – to make it work. And that, my friends, is something to live by.
In recent years I’ve learned that those browned bits mean: FLAVOR. So, you actually should scrape them up from the bottom of the pan. “Deglaze” with water, stock, or even wine. It’s the “cheffy” thing to do.
Searing the carrots is a good way to bring out their flavor. Make sure to scrape up those brown bits of flavor to create a rich sauce.
Clean and dry kale and tear into bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop carrots into 1-inch chunks. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Thoroughly clean leek. Chop. Slice polenta into disks.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and sear for about 5 minutes, until browned on one side. Turn and cook until browned on all sides. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Turn heat down to medium-low. Add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil to skillet. Add leeks and garlic and cook until wilted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Pour in vegetable broth, scraping up any brown bits (flavor!) from the bottom of the pan. Add kale and toss until starting to wilt. Put carrots back in and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Cover and cook on medium low heat until carrots are tender and kale has softened. (About 15-20 mins)
Meanwhile, heat another pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the polenta disks and sear for a few minutes on each side. Set aside.
Place 2-3 polenta disks on each plate. Top with braised kale and carrot mixture. Finish with remaining sauce.
I'm not very experienced in cooking polenta, so using the tube version is a great (and time-saving!) alternative.