Instead, dinner sort of sucked: Polenta

A month or so ago, I bought a tube of pre-cooked polenta (which, if you don’t know, is a sort of cornmeal) in a fit of optimism and adventure. I had no idea how to cook polenta. I had no idea how I was supposed to eat polenta or what I was supposed to eat with it. I once had homemade polenta with a tomato and red pepper topping, but that was cooked by someone who is nearly a professional, so it was something I had no hope of replicating. After a few days of searching, I learned that finding recipes for pre-cooked polenta that aren’t appetizers is nearly impossible. By the time I found this recipe for grilled chicken polenta with nectarine blackberry salsa, I’d waited too long and there were no nectarines to be found. The polenta sat sad and neglected in the cupboard.

A few months later, I saw that nectarines were finally back on the shelves. It was time to grocery shop and to commence panicking.

The gist of the recipe was to slice up the polenta, grill it along with the chicken, and then grill the nectarines and mix those up with the blackberries to make a strange salsa with cilantro and hot sauce. I was already starting off on the panicky side because we don’t have an actual grill to cook with, only a George Foreman. I set up the grill on the counter and went to work.

The first thing to do was halve the nectarines and remove the pits. As it turns out, nectarines would really rather not be parted from their pits. The first one I tried got hopelessly mangled, and even after some internet research on how to actually do it, I still came close to ruining them all.

Poor things.

Next, I started to chop the blackberries. Blackberries are also reluctant to be chopped. I managed to splash purple juice all over myself and all over the kitchen. Several hours later, I found purple splashes on several of the kitchen outlets and on the inside of my arm.

Next up was to rub the chicken and the polenta with a cumin mixture. Before I started, I turned on the grill to heat up for a few minutes. I was feeling good; the chicken was ready for the grill and I sliced the polenta so that it could go on next. While I waited for the grill to heat up, I thought I’d be a fucking efficient chef and multitask by chopping the cilantro and squeezing the tablespoon of lime juice for the salsa. I looked over to check if the light on the grill had gone off, and smoke was pouring out of the sides of the grill. Apparently George Foremans are way more efficient than I am.

I yelled something like FIRE and unplugged the grill. I hadn’t even added any food and I had already managed to burn something. In an ideal world, I could put all the things on the grill at once, but the Foreman was way too small, so I’d have to tag-team the polenta and chicken and nectarines on and off the grill and it was all becoming so complicated I wanted to dump it all in the trash and order a pizza. But nectarines are expensive and I’d already nearly set the apartment on fire, so things could only get better.

After 8 years of dating, Charlie has a fine-tuned ability to sense my building panic and to help me calm myself before I start getting upset that EVERYTHING IS RUINED. When he saw me frantically running around and opening windows to keep the smoke detector from going off, he came over and casually put the nectarines on the grill. I had a sous chef.

One by one, Charlie helped me to grill all the things that needed to grill while I mixed the nectarines, blackberries, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and hot sauce for the fruit salsa. I didn’t know how I felt about hot sauce with fruit, but I was getting too hungry to care.

Grilled nectarines.

Grilled polenta slices.

In the end, I was more of an assistant, chopping and mixing things while Charlie did all of the actual cooking. For a hot minute I thought about feeling like a failure, but in reality I was just happy to be as far away from the smoking grill as possible. Once everything was finished, we put the chopped chicken on top of the polenta slices, and topped it with the salsa.

As we sat down to eat, the power blinked and then went out. If I’d been flying around trying to manage everything on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to finish cooking at all. We lit candles and sat on the couch to eat. Even without power, we had a dinner to eat and I’d had a chef to keep me from melting down or setting things on fire. I was all ready to feel adorable and accomplished.

Instead, the dinner sort of sucked. Between the cumin, the hot sauce, and the cilantro, there were too many strong flavors battling it out for superiority. I think the salsa was supposed to be a spicy/sweet combination, but the blackberries and the nectarines weren’t sweet enough to balance out the hot sauce and salt. Next time it might be better to just go ahead, give up, and order pizza. If we’re going to be nursing heartburn in the candlelight, I’d rather have eaten pizza.

Jill Kolongowski is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she sometimes blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

5 Responses to “Instead, dinner sort of sucked: Polenta”
  1. Polenta is delicious! But I would fry it in a pan. Way easier. It’s also pretty easily overpowered by any other flavors.

  2. Kelly Hannon says:

    Dan and I have had some trouble with recipes online lately, too. Some people put way too many flavors/spices in one dish.

  3. Bruno Sommer says:

    Your presentation is quite good.

  4. Cd says:

    Yes to fried/grilled polenta with melted cheese and salsa! Or with pizza toppings! But iI am just making this up as I go along. It looks so pretty and Yes Bruno her presentation is quite excellent.
    But excellence does run in the family!

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