Polenta is normally a hearty, thick, porridge-like dish. (Which is why you can allow it to cool in a parchment-lined loaf pan, then tap it out, cut it into slices, and grill or bake it. It’s somewhat time-consuming to make polenta “bread,” but it’s darned tasty and well worth it.) When you fold whipped egg whites into polenta, however, that hearty denseness becomes a hearty lightness. Add a few sauteed veggies and some savory dairy elements like crème fraîche and Parmesan, and you have a dish that’s airy and satisfying at the same time. I opted to include onion, mushrooms, and lacinato — a.k.a. “dinosaur”– kale in the soufflé, but you can use whatever veggies you like best. But be sure to cook the polenta with whole milk, not just water. The milk adds an undertone of flavor and sweetness that water simply can’t. Or use chicken or vegetable broth as your cooking liquid.
Polenta Mushroom Kale Soufflé Makes an 8″x8″ pan.
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. crimini OR button mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch lacinato OR curly kale, rinsed and whacked dry and then chopped
1 cup polenta, preferably organic
2 cups whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows, OR 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
Hearty pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, preferably from grass-fed cows
1/2 cup crème fraîche, preferably from grass-fed cows (try Vermont Creamery’s crème fraîche)
3 egg whites, preferably from pastured hens, at room temp
Preheat oven to 350F and thoroughly grease an 8″x8″ glass pan. I like to save my butter wrappers and use them to grease pans. Very convenient!
Melt a generous knob of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes, just long enough to soften the onions. Add mushrooms and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until mushrooms have shrunk in half. Stir in kale and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes to wilt the kale. Remove from heat.
Pour the polenta, milk, and water into a medium pot. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. As soon as the polenta starts to bubble, you’ll need to stir it often to prevent it from scorching onto the bottom of your pan. You may also need to turn down the heat a bit if it’s bubbling too furiously. If the polenta gets too dry, add 1/2 cup water. The goal is to have a thick porridge-like consistency that you could stand the spoon in, but it also should be pretty soft-textured. If it gets too thick before acquiring a soft texture, that’s when you’d add a bit more water.
Remove polenta from heat and stir in salt, Parmesan, crème fraîche, and the cooked veggies. In a separate large mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff. Pastured eggs whip faster and firmer than conventional eggs, so if you’re stuck with the latter, you may want to speed the process along by adding a pinch of cream of tartar to the whites before whipping them. The acidity of the cream of tartar will prompt the proteins in the whites to denature and then coagulate — i.e., to stiffen. Mechanical whipping achieves the same effect; it just can take longer with conventional eggs.
Gently fold the whites into the polenta mixture, being careful NOT to clonk anything against any surfaces. (Clonking will deflate your whipped eggs.) Scoop into greased pan and bake for 30 minutes or until polenta is golden on top.