Quick Saffron Polenta Bake

Warming, saffron-scented polenta is double-cooked here – once in the pan and then finished under the grill with a scattering of squash, kale and feta. The feta crispens and the squash burnishes as the polenta finishes cooking. I love the warming sunny flavour of saffron, but it can be pricey. If you don’t have any at home, you can make this without it, or use another herb, such as thyme or oregano. It won’t taste the same, but it will add another dimension to your polenta.

Serves 4

  • A pinch of saffron strands
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock 
  • 150g coarse polenta or cornmeal
  • 50ml olive oil, plus a little extra for sautéing veg
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 250g piece of butternut squash, skin removed
  • 1 head of kale (about 180g) or other winter greens
  • A small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced 
  • 100g feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, zested
  • A handful of toasted pine nuts
  • A small handful of rocket

1 Dissolve the saffron threads in the hot stock. Put the stock into a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat and slowly pour in the polenta or cornmeal, stirring as you go. Keep beating until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, which will take about 5–6 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, season to taste with salt and black pepper, then pour into an ovenproof dish.

2 Use a speed peeler to slice the squash into thin ribbons. Separate the kale leaves from their woody stalks (discard the stalks) and finely shred the leaves. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and sauté the squash, kale leaves, garlic and thyme leaves until wilted and crisp at the edges. Season to taste, then set aside. Preheat the grill to high.

3 Scatter the kale and squash mixture over the polenta, then top with the feta and lemon zest.

4 Put the dish under the hot grill for 10‑12 minutes, or until the squash has begun to brown and the feta has browned and crisped with the heat. Allow the polenta to cool for a few minutes before dressing with pine nuts and rocket. Serve in the middle of the table so that everyone can dig in and help themselves.

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