Amy Chaplin: soft polenta with nettles, peas and goats' cheese

Soft polenta makes a sweet and soothing meal in 20 minutes and the wildness of the stinging nettles gives a lovely grassy flavour.
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Using corn grits (cornmeal) to make polenta gives a satisfying, coarser texture that won’t lump as easily as the finer ground Italian polenta. Any type will work here, but the exact cooking time will depend on how coarse they are – just taste periodically until the raw flavour is gone and the consistency is thick and creamy. If you find it hard to source corn grits then use polenta instead.

Stinging nettles are not generally available in grocery shops, so look for them at your local farmers’ market. Nettles are a kidney tonic, high in iron, calcium and magnesium. They help enrich the blood and build vitality. Steep the leaves and stems in boiling water to make a tasty, fortifying tea. 

Serves 4


For the polenta:
* 1.4 litres (6 cups) filtered water
* 4 bay leaves
* ½ tsp sea salt
* 240g corn grits (cornmeal) or polenta
* 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the peas and nettles:
* 300g (2 cups) shelled peas, fresh or frozen
* 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
* 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
* 2 leeks, thinly sliced
* sea salt
* 150g nettle leaves, roughly chopped (see note)
* 175g fresh goats' cheese
* zest of 1 lemon
* 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
* freshly ground black pepper

1. To make the polenta add the water and bay leaves to a medium pan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes.

2. Remove the bay leaves and add salt. Raise the heat to high and slowly pour in the corn grits, whisking constantly, until the mixture is boiling again – be careful as it may splutter. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, whisking every minute or so to prevent the mixture from sticking.

3. Taste to check the corn grits are soft and cooked; if not, continue cooking for five minutes more or until the raw flavour is gone. Remove from heat, stir in the olive oil and season to taste. Cover the pan and set aside while you prepare the peas and nettles.

4. For the peas and nettles: if using fresh peas, bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add peas and cook two minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, drain and set aside to cool. If using frozen peas, skip this blanching step.

5. Warm olive oil in a wide frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for one minute; add leeks and a pinch of salt and continue cooking for four to five minutes or until softened. Stir in nettles and cook for two to three minutes or until wilted and tender.

6. Add peas and stir until heated through. Crumble in half of the goats' cheese, half of the lemon zest and add lemon juice.

7. Remove from heat and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

8. To serve, divide polenta into bowls and top with nettle and pea mixture. Crumble a little remaining goats' cheese over each portion, sprinkle with remaining zest and drizzle with olive oil.

Note: nettles are prickly and will sting you, so handle with care and use gloves when plucking the leaves from the stems, or hold the bunch with a cloth and cut leaves off with scissors so they don’t touch your skin. Cooking removes their sting.

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