Watercolor painting of bowls of polenta, tomato, Martin guitar in green chair.

Johnny’s Polenta. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Some of you know that I frequently eat polenta as a breakfast cereal during summer and early fall, cooking it in milk, stirring in a fresh peach or a handful of wild blackberries. Some of you know I have spent part of the summer flirting with a guitar player, wondering how much he liked me, being alternately elated and crushed as I went to play music at his house, attended band rehearsal, sang at a small festival in Santa Rosa, followed him up to another festival called Cur-Ville. You’ve seen me donning red dresses and trying to let go.

That phase has ended: the guitar player is mine now and, to prove it, spent the better part of the long weekend at my house. Mornings found us in the kitchen, brewing coffee, figuring out what to eat for breakfast. I cooked him eggs twice, scrambled with cheese and Gypsy peppers, served with sourdough toast. This morning I asked him what he ate for breakfast besides eggs. He mentioned a dish of polenta and various cheeses, topped with tomato and avocado.

We always have cornmeal, so I put on a pot of  salted water to boil and put out the cheese collection for Johnny to look at while I measured out a cup of cornmeal. He selected Red Leicester, a cheddar, and chopped it into small pieces.  I added some grated pecorino Romano. While the polenta was warm I added a chopped tomato. We tasted the polenta. He added a bit more cheese, I added a pinch of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkle of paprika and we had a beautiful golden breakfast, flecked with tomato red, Johnny’s gift to me and my gift to you.

After we ate, I did the dishes, dancing at the sink while Johnny sat in a green chair and played me Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Occasionally, I turned around to look at him to sync my back-up vocals to his lead. Dishes have never been this much fun — who knew? All you need is a guitar-player in your kitchen to play songs for you while you wash and rinse. But you can’t have mine — he’s taken. Sorry.

If you want to make Johnny’s Polenta, measure water and cornmeal in a four-to-one ratio (I used four cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, but you could use one cup of water to a quarter cup if you want only one serving).

Add a bit of salt to the water — not too much, since you are going to be adding cheese later.

Boil polenta and water mixture until it has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in

Chopped and grated cheeses to taste : I used about 3 ounces of cheddar and 1 ounce of pecorino Romano.

Add one large chopped tomato.

Add 1/2 tsp of either sweet or hot paprika, depending on your proclivities: this adds wonderful color as well as a subtle flavor.

Taste and season as necessary. You will have to provide your own soundtrack for dish-washing.

Food Notes: You can make this with cornmeal or polenta, or even grits — whatever cereal-like corn product that you have hanging around. Lauren, if you are listening, you could swap some permitted vegetable for the contraband tomato and eliminate the cheddar, substituting some cheese you like, such as the cumin cheese we ate in France.

The Lauren Project: Thanks from Lauren and from me to all who sent recipes to the Lauren Project. Lauren is out in California, cooking up test batches of recipes. She and I will confer soon and announce the prize winners in an upcoming blog post. Before we complete the winners’ post we will contact our winner to ask what prize he or she desires. Then we will contact the second place finisher, third-place contestant, etc. until all prizes are awarded. Those of you who did not win will still be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles’ painting purchased by midnight December 31st, 2012.

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