When people think of New England farms, grains may not be the first crop that comes to mind. However, this region has a rich history of grain production, so much so that three sheaves of wheat are visible on Vermont’s state flag. In the 19th century, French and English settlers transformed the Green Mountain State into one of the largest grain producers in the country, earning it the moniker “Breadbasket of America.”
Drawing on this history, and the availability of incredible New England-grown grains from producers like Maine Grains, or through the Northern Grain Growers Association in Vermont, we are offering two Italian-inspired classics with a local twist.
The secret to the recipes is to use the best quality grains and to soak them overnight for optimal texture and flavor. These hearty, simple dishes are particularly satisfying on cold New England evenings.
POLENTA WITH TOMATO
Start to finish: 24 hours to soak,
45 minutes to cook
Servings: 4-6 as a main course
This is basic tomato sauce, inspired by a recipe from cooking writer Marcella Hazan, with a few twists. Use your canned or jarred tomatoes from the summer if you still have them.
1 standard 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
6 tablespoons butter
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
In a sturdy saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the chopped onion, kosher salt and crushed red pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion is translucent.
Add the tomatoes to the pan. Using a large spoon, stir occasionally to prevent scorching and use the back of the spoon to break up the tomatoes.
After 45 minutes, remove from the heat, cover and set aside in a warm oven.
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
About 24 hours before you make this recipe, place the cornmeal, salt and half of the water (2 cups) into a container and store in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to cook, place the remaining 2 cups of water into a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
While you wait for the water to boil, take the soaking corn mixture and stir it vigorously.
When the water boils, carefully add all of the cornmeal and soaking water to the pot.
Stir this often for 10-15 minutes until the water is fully absorbed.
Remove from the stove and add the butter and Parmesan cheese.
Top the polenta with the warm tomato sauce and enjoy immediately.