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Creamy Polenta with Asparagus

Cooked polenta can have two distinct textures. Served just after making, polenta makes a creamy bed for toppings such as crisp asparagus. Cooled polenta is firm enough to slice and then grill or bake for other dishes (see related recipes at left).

Storage tip: The remaining polenta can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Spread it into an oiled 9-inch baking pan, let cool and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt, to taste, plus 1 tsp.
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups instant polenta
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shards (use a vegetable peeler to slice)

Directions:

Cook the asparagus
Preheat a broiler.

In a small bowl, stir together the mascarpone and lemon zest and set aside.

Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet, lightly toss with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Broil until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a platter and cover with aluminum foil.

Cook the polenta
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over high heat, bring 3 cups of the milk and the water to a boil and add the 1 tsp. salt. Whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking occasionally, until the polenta is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Leave one-third of the polenta in the pan and store the rest for future use (see note above).

Finish the dish
Whisk the remaining 1 cup milk into the polenta in the saucepan and cook until just heated, about 30 seconds. Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and top with the asparagus. Spoon the mascarpone mixture over the asparagus, sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately. Serves 4; makes two 9-inch polenta rounds.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Make Ahead, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2008).