Having been a hardcore night owl for most of my life, it’s fair to say that I do not respond well when my phone rings before 10 a.m. However, I totally didn’t mind yesterday’s 8:15 a.m. phone call informing me that my morning rehearsal had been cancelled due to the intense blizzard conditions. Hooray! I felt like a little kid being given a snow day, but rather than going sledding in the park followed by steaming mugs of hot chocolate, I took the opportunity to try out a new recipe with ingredients already on hand. Even if I’d had to make a special trip to the grocery store, it would have been worth braving the icy elements to have this rustic warming Cornmeal Arugula Soup for lunch.
You may be asking what the words “cornmeal”, “arugula” and “soup” are all doing together in the same recipe. Think of this as a very loose polenta that’s been prepared with much higher than usual ratio of liquid to coarse-grained cornmeal. Polenta is one of my favorite comfort foods, and it makes a beautiful golden side dish when it is finished simply with a rich bit of cheese stirred in. But I love the way it takes center stage in this recipe when amplified with a healthy dose of greens.
This recipe comes from Lidia Bastianich, and I always know that I’m in extremely reliable hands with her soul-satisfying recipes. The original calls for spinach, but I used arugula because that’s what I had. Frankly, I like the taste of arugula better than spinach anyway, and it contributed a welcome peppery bite to the soup. I added a generous spoonful of grated Pecorino Romano on top, and a final drizzle of olive oil tied the flavors all together.
I have a feeling that this Cornmeal Arugula soup will stay in my repertoire no matter what time of year it is. As for yesterday, this comforting bowlful of gold-and-green was a welcome splash of color on a blizzardy day. The cornmeal-based porridge warmed me up from the inside and the generous addition of greens made it seem especially healthy. After making such a nourishing soup, I could certainly justify enjoying a large mug of cardamom hot chocolate that afternoon, almost as much as if I’d gone sledding in the park beforehand. Happy snow day indeed!
CORNMEAL ARUGULA SOUP
Adapted, barely, from a recipe by Lidia Bastianich in Bon Appetit, October 2010
6 cups of chicken broth or vegetable broth, or more as needed
¾ cup polenta (or coarse cornmeal)
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
5 ounces baby arugula leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
grated Pecorino Romano, for finishing
extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan, and cover to keep warm. Combine the polenta and flour in a large heavy pot. Whisk in 1 cup of hot broth and combine over medium-high heat until the mixture is smooth. Add the butter, smashed garlic cloves and a sprinkling of sea salt. Gradually add the rest of the hot broth by cupfuls, stirring well after each addition. Cook over medium heat, stirring often to prevent the cornmeal from sticking to the pot, until the polenta is soft and the soup has thickened to a creamy consistency, about 25 minutes. (You can add more hot broth if you prefer a slightly thinner soup.) Add the arugula by the handful, stirring to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until the arugula is wilted. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
Divide among bowls and garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of grated Pecorino cheese. Makes 6 servings.