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Polenta Power

By Cheryl Forberg

Compared to brown and beige grains, the golden grains of corn have many of the same nutrients. A rich reserve of insoluble fiber, whole grain corn provides bulk and speeds the passage of food through the digestive tract, promoting regularity and potentially reducing the risk of colon cancer. Zeaxanthins are an antiaging phytochemical that give corn its amber complexion. Zeaxanthin has been studied for its role in boosting the immune system as well as fighting cancer and macular degeneration. Corn also contains proteins that appear to suppress cancer growth.
Image of polenta
Polenta and cornmeal are two different versions of dried ground corn. They’re used interchangeably in many recipes. The real difference between the two is the size of the grind, and subsequently the price. Cornmeal may be ground fine, medium or course. Cornbread and muffins often call for a fine grind, which is similar to the texture of flour. Polenta requires a medium or coarse grind.

Stone-ground cornmeal is available in most health food stores. Because the germ has not been removed, it has a vastly superior nutrient profile compared to ordinary cornmeal. The preservation of the germ increases the fat content thus decreasing the shelf life. It should be refrigerated.

The dish called polenta refers to the grain as well as to its Italian-style preparation. In it, the coarse ground corn meal is cooked in water or broth and whisked continuously to prevent lumps from forming. The mixture is simmered over low heat until it is creamy and thick. Most preparations are fairly simple and incorporate additions such as butter or cheese.

Grits on the other hand are made from ground, dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the hull of the corn is removed by an alkali, such as slaked lime or lye.

Though this processing leaves them less nutritious, they are often prepared in a manner similar to cooking polenta.

This month’s recipe features not only the delicious flavors (and health benefits!) of stone ground corn; it also includes the convenience of Melissa's precooked polenta product. This recipe is easy AND scrumptious - my favorite combination!

This vegetable “lasagna” is really easy to make, and you can use whatever mushrooms you prefer. This makes a gorgeous first course or side dish.

Pasticciata (Polenta Lasagna) with Garlic Spinach and Mushrooms
Makes 4 servings

1 (16 ounce) chub Melissa’s precooked, ready to heat Polenta
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 medium Yellow Onion, chopped
6 ounces White or Brown Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (3 cups)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
1 cup Fat-Free, Low-Sodium Chicken or Vegetable Broth
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, grated
¼ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Chopped Garlic
1 (12 ounce) bag Spinach
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Sprig of Thyme or Flat-Leaf (Italian) Parsley, for garnish


For the polenta:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the polenta into eight ½ inch slices. Coat lightly with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, then turn the polenta slices and bake for 8 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and keep warm.

For the mushrooms:
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Carefully add the broth and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture is reduced. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg. Remove from the heat. Cover to keep warm.

For the spinach:
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and then the spinach (do not let the garlic brown). Turn the spinach until wilted and just cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:
Transfer the spinach to a warmed serving dish and spread out in an even layer. Arrange the polenta slices on top of the spinach and top with the mushrooms. Garnish with the herbs.

Nutritional Analysis – for one serving
Calories 180
Fat calories 50
Total fat 6 grams
Sat fat 1 grams
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 740 mg
Total Carbohydrates 25g
Fiber 4g
Sugars 4g
Protein 5g
Vitamin A IUs 160%
Vitamin C 45%
Calcium 15%
Iron 15%

Adapted with permission from:
Flavor First by Cheryl Forberg, RD. Copyright© 20011 by Cheryl Forberg, RD. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at .

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