Easy Polenta Squares Using Piggyback Cookery / by Anne

butternut squash polenta squares Can you get "slow food" out of quick steps?  Turns out, yes.  Three nights in a row we ate really well, even though I was feeling deeply lazy. The only thing keeping me from ordering pizza delivery on Saturday was that something was about to go bad in the fridge. 

Monday's polenta squares started as Saturday chicken guilt.   

Saturday

The "use or freeze by" date was upon us.  I cleaned and rubbed the waning chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, sea salt, and peppercorns.  It went into the mini-rotisserie (or a low-heat oven would have been fine) for an hour and a half.  Nestled on top of some fresh greens, that chicken was mighty fine, considering the amount of hands-on cooking time was about 10 minutes. 

After dinner we threw the bones in a pot with chunks of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and bay leaf, with enough water to cover.  I brought the pot to boil while cleaning up the kitchen, and let the pot simmer until it was time to go to bed. 

When we strained the stock into a bowl, we tasted it.  It was a rockstar quality stock, though a mite salty.  I knew it would become a science project if I didn't use it up quickly, because I would be too lazy to find the right dish to freeze it in. 

Sunday

I was late getting home.  The quickest stock-using solution I could think of was to peel a butternut squash, shred it in the cuisinart, and boil it with the stock, along with some nutmeg, honey, and white pepper.  The cooking was quick--about 10 minutes--because the squash was in small shreds. Rinsing the cuisinart during boiling time and using it to puree the soup added almost no time to the whole deal.  We had butternut squash soup, along with bacon sandwiches (bacon prepared on a cookie sheet in the oven).  Dinner took about 15 minutes to make. 

After dinner, we had lots of leftover soup, which I was sure would become next week's compost if we didn't morph it into something new, ASAP.   So it became two other things:  the base for a lunchy lentil soup (Easy! Boil rinsed lentils in the soup with some extra water for a little over half an hour),  and the liquid for cooking polenta.  

While Michael gave Rosalie a bath I made the polenta, washing dishes in between polenta stirrings.  When it was ready, I spread the polenta in a flat layer on a greased jelly roll pan, covered it with wax paper, then slid it into the fridge.  I was feeling super smug at that point.  Most of the work was done now!

The next night, a tired Monday night, all I had to do was cut the smooth, flat polenta into squares, dip it in egg and bread crumbs, and fry the squares in olive oil with slices of onion.  I served the squares with tomato sauce, the fried onions, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.   These little squares were crispy on the outside and full of butternutty, corny richness on the inside.  We ate so well and so happily.  I felt truly recharged by this accidentally thoughtful meal.

Is there a cookbook out there that shows how you can do this on a regular basis?  Using part of one night's meal to make the next night's meal  is not just efficient; it's bringing love and luxury into your day.  It's the gift of time that you somehow stole, the pleasure of slow food by staggering or layering your meals.  You get something slow out of something quick!  Magic.