The Michigan weather gods have been teasing us with a premature Spring, which is glorious in the way that 50-degree sun can only be north of the 40th parallel. But I know it’s not going to last. Californians might be able to look forward to the first asparagus this month and fresh peas not long after, but here the only things “in season” for months to come are kale and cabbage and trucked-in citrus. So here’s one of my favorite winter porridges, adapted from World’s Healthiest Foods. The polenta offers a nice change of pace from oats and simmering the prunes in orange juice and cinnamon until the sugars begin to caramelize makes a tart, spiced topping that’s both sunny and comforting on cold winter mornings, which I’m sure we still have a few of to look forward to.
It’s remarkably quick and easy to throw together, largely thanks to the instant polenta. I just toss the prunes, orange juice, and cinnamon in a small saucepan set on high heat and a minute or two after I’m done microwaving the polenta, the compote is ready. If you’re more ambitious than I usually am before noon, you could use regular polenta. Russ Parson wrote recently about a stir-and-bake method method that supposedly produces the “deep, toasted corn flavor of a true long-stirred polenta” without the long-stirring. But instant polenta is a far cry better than instant oatmeal, and for a simple, hot breakfast cereal, it does well enough for me.
The recipe is also endlessly adaptable—you can use different juices, spices, fruits, and/or nuts. The original recipe includes apricots, and I throw them in when I have them on hand. I love cardamom and almonds in place of the cinnamon and walnuts. Dried blueberries and cherries with nutmeg would probably also be great. Milk of any kind—cow, soy, almond, coconut—can be used instead of the water to make a richer polenta. If you were really hurting for summer, you could make a tropical version by doing one or more of the following: cooking the polenta in coconut milk, topping it with pieces of dried mango and papaya simmered in guava juice with allspice and a piece of fresh (or pinch of powdered) ginger, sprinkling it with shredded coconut and macadamia nuts.
But this is how I usually do it:
Recipe: Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote
- 4 T. instant polenta
- 1 cup water
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 5-6 prunes
- generous pinch ground cinnamon
- small handful of chopped walnuts
- 1 T. honey (optional)
1. In a saucepan, heat the orange juice, prunes, cinnamon, and honey over medium-high heat.
2. Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until thickened (about 2 minutes).
3. When the juice has reduced to a sauce and is beginning to caramelize and the prunes are softened, pour it over the cooked polenta.
4. Scatter walnuts over the top.