Soft Polenta and Black Bean Ragoût
- Yield 4 servings
As you eat soft polenta right out of the pot, it will slowly solidify. That phenomenon is one of the delightful textural changes you may enjoy in this preparation. An ideal accompaniment is grilled or roast, or even braised, lamb on top, cooked so the juices spill all over the polenta. If you grill or roast the lamb, use about 2 pounds lamb shoulder, rub it with a tablespoon of ground fennel seeds, salt, and pepper, and grill slowly (indirectly) or roast slowly (about 300°F) for 3 hours.
- For the polenta:
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup fine or medium cornmeal
- For the black bean ragoût:
- 2 quarts water
- 1 bunch garni, tied in cheesecloth, consisting of 5 sprigs fresh fl at-leaf parsley, 5 sprigs fresh thyme, 5 sprigs fresh tarragon, 1 bay leaf, and 10 black peppercorns
- 1 cup dried black beans
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
- For serving:
- 1 3/4 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese (about 6 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- For the polenta, in the bottom half of a double boiler, pour enough water to reach and cover the bottom of the top part. Bring this water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat so the water is just under a bubble.
- Add the 4 cups water to the top part of the double boiler, and set it directly over another burner over medium heat, not on top of the bottom part of the double boiler. Bring to a boil and add the salt.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir the water in the top part of the double boiler until you have created a whirlpool. Now quickly pour the cornmeal into the center of the whirlpool in a continuous steady stream, not too fast, not too slow. Do not stop stirring. Continue to stir at a slower pace once the cornmeal is in the pot. Reduce the heat to low and stir for 3 to 5 minutes while the polenta bubbles slightly; it will thicken.
- Place the lid on the top and fit the top half of the double boiler on the bottom half. Cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
- While the polenta is cooking, for the black bean ragoût, bring the 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan, add the bouquet garni, then add the black beans and cook until tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Drain, saving 1 cup of the cooking water, and transfer to a skillet with the olive oil, garlic, and fennel seeds. Cook over medium-high heat until the garlic is sizzling, then reduce the heat to low, add 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water, and simmer until saucy and soft . Keep warm while you finish the polenta.
- Spread the soft polenta on a platter, sprinkle most of the cheese over the polenta, and drop the butter in slivers over it, too. Ladle the beans over the polenta, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and serve.