Comfort food is for summer, too

A soulful supper for a case of the feels

June 2024 Laura Frankel image

When you have a case of the "feels," you want something familiar, comforting, and cozy. Soothing hot soups, rich and creamy pastas, and snuggly stews. But hot-weather meals usually mean crunchy salads, no-cook dinners, and other foods that can be branded as refreshing.

But sometimes you just want a cheesy, gooey, comforting dinner-even if it is summer. And all that crunching and chomping of summer salads is hardly comforting. So do yourself a favor… and get cooking! 

There is something very peaceful and meditative about cooking. Nourishing your body and soul is an act of self-care. 

Creamy, Cheesy Oven-Baked Polenta with Blistered Tomatoes and Mushroom Ragu

Creamy and cheesy and pure comfort. A polenta bowl is just what you need when you "had a day"! Oven-baked polenta is a quick, hands-off dish that you can throw together and serve as a main dish or side.

 

I like the combo of Parmesan and Asiago cheeses; the nutty Parm pairs well with buttery and slightly sweet Asiago. But any cheese will work here, and after all this is a comfort dish.

 

Serves 4

For the Polenta

 

1 cup cornmeal

 

4 cups water

 

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

 

½ cup grated asiago (or your favorite cheese)

 

3 tablespoons butter + butter for greasing baking pan

 

¾ cup grated parmesan, divided

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish

  1. Stir together cornmeal, water, salt, and pepper.
  2. Pour into prepared dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  3. Stir polenta, add cheeses, reserving ½ cup of parmesan for serving.
  4. Return polenta to oven and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes until very creamy.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the Ragu

 

Sure, you can tuck right into the polenta with no further embellishment, but this is a comfort dish- and sometimes more is more.

 

Extra virgin olive oil

 

8 ounces favorite mushrooms, sliced (I like a mix of cremini, royal trumpet, and shiitake)

 

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

3 large garlic cloves, minced

 

1 pint grape tomatoes

 

½ cup white wine

 

2 teaspoons tomato paste

 

Small handful of torn basil leaves

  1. Heat a sauté pan, lightly coated with EVOO, over medium heat.
  2. Sauté mushrooms until golden brown, with crispy edges. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add garlic and tomatoes to the pan. Continue cooking until tomatoes have blistered and burst open (about 7-10 minutes).
  4. Add white wine and tomato paste. Stir together.
  5. Continue cooking until a thick sauce has formed. Season to taste.

 

Spoon Ragu over hot polenta. Garnish with remaining Parm and torn basil.

Panna Cotta

 

Light as a feather and still richly decadent. This no-bake dessert comes together in minutes and can be riffed on, depending upon what fruit you have on hand. Tangy buttermilk is the hero ingredient here.

 

Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons cold water

 

1¾ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

 

1¾ cups heavy cream

 

½ cup sugar

 

½ teaspoon sea salt

 

1½ cups buttermilk

 

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

 

Blackberry-Lime Mash (see below)

 

Gather 4-6 dessert cups or ramekins.

  1. Place water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand for 5 minutes until thick.
  2. Heat cream, sugar, salt, and gelatin in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add buttermilk and vanilla bean paste.
  4. Divide mixture into dessert cups or ramekins.
  5. Chill until set (at least 2 hours). 

Blackberry-Lime Mash

 

I love the flavor of blackberries with lime. This is a quick topper for cake, ice cream and panna cotta. It also makes a lovely base for sangria or a margarita.

 

3 cups fresh blackberries

 

½ cup sugar

 

Zest and juice of 1 lime

 

¼ cup of water

  1. Heat blackberries and sugar with water over medium heat, until simmering.
  2. Lightly mash blackberries, leaving some chunks, and continue cooking until water has evaporated and the mixture is thick.
  3. Add zest and lime juice.
  4. Cool before serving. 

Laura Frankel is a noted kosher chef, a cookbook author, and Culinary Director for a media company. Currently, she serves as Product Development Specialist at The Spice House.   

 


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