San Francisco, 1997. I was at the tail end of my studies in University and I flew to visit my then boyfriend in the city by the bay. On many of the evenings, we went out to little hole in the wall restaurants that were so (so, so, so) delicious.
On one particular evening, we walked into a tiny Italian restaurant, just on the border of the inner Richmond district and the Laurel Heights district. Various sized mirrors hung on a dark walnut wall that ran the length of the restaurant. Solid wood booths, that looked like they held stories of decades, ran perpendicular to the entry door. We tucked out of the fog creeping into the neighborhood and settled into a booth in a corner of the restaurant to examine the menu. I was drawn to a simple one line description that read something like this: "Rich vegetable ragout atop a creamy bed of cornmeal polenta."
At the time, pre-foodie, I had never seen the word ragout and incorrectly pronounced it Rag-Out. (Don't judge. I've gained some food knowledge since that time!). The wait staff corrected me gently and I ordered the dish happily. What arrived at our table twenty minutes later was a deep white earthenware bowl layered with an intense stock infused cornmeal concoction. Since the moment I tasted that dish, it has been on my top favorite foods of all time list. This is comfort food.
So, on a recent evening, with the kids in their jammies, I poured myself a gorgeous glass of pinot grigio and got to work. The youngest jammie clad bohemian spent time hanging out at my legs, taste testing warm spoonfulls of polenta in process, and discovering that his shadow dances along with him.
I slowly wilted a hand full of finely diced onions into bubbling olive oil. Then, little bit by little bit, I worked half cup by half cup of vegetable stock into the golden cornmeal. And, I stirred and stirred and stirred... and stirred. And, over the course of the next hour, the magical process of polenta came to a close with the final addition of some Parmesan and a bit more olive oil. I like to vary my toppings and on this particular evening I chose to lay down a bit of pesto, a generous amount of colossal prawns and a few roughly chopped tomatoes (that I squeezed over the top before placing on the dish). As the house grew quieter, I realized that over the years I have probably gone through a similar ritual well over one hundred times. There's something about polenta...