Polenta Bowls with Chard and Bacon
There are two types of comfort food in the world: The crazy and the thoughtful. I’ve been known to make both.
In the crazy category are those recipes for macaroni and cheese that have pounds of cheese and butter. It’s just crazy, but everybody loves it.
Sometimes the second category, the thoughtful, is more interesting though. Thoughtful comfort food has layers, different textures, and richness. It leaves you feeling full, but not out of commission. And you always want more.
These polenta bowls with chard and bacon are an example of thoughtful comfort food. These will keep you warm (although it has been unseasonably warm in Denver recently), but they will also just make ya smile.
- For polenta, bring 3 cups of water to a low simmer in a medium pot. Slowly pour in ground corn and whisk constantly. Turn heat down to low and simmer until corn starts to thicken, 3-4 minutes. Then add cream, salt, and pepper and continue to cook on low until polenta is soft. If it seems dry and is sticking or cracking, add more water in 1/2 cup increments. Keep polenta warm over very low heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet add chopped bacon over low heat and cook until bacon is crispy, maybe 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel. Drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease.
- Add sliced chili pepper and chopped chard (cut off any very thick stems) to the skillet and toss to combine. Cook for a few minutes until chard cooks down an bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Right before serving, stir cheddar cheese into polenta and divide between bowls. Top with chard mixture and reserved crispy bacon. Garnish with scallions also.
I sort of contradicted myself for these bowls. Usually I call ground corn grits if it is edible via spoon and polenta if it’s hard and fried. But for some reason these are called polenta bowls. I don’t need to be consistent so just give me this!
You can call them grits bowls if you want. It’s literally the same thing!
Use a good coarse ground cornmeal. You could use stock if you want to cook your polenta, but I just use water and then add cream near the end to make the polenta rich and wonderful.
Season the grits well with salt and pepper when they are thick and tender. Right before serving, add in some cheddar cheese. Don’t overdo it with the cheese. It adds some nice sharpness but we aren’t in the crazy category so keep it under control!
You can keep the polenta warm while you make the bowls or do them at the same time obviously!
The toppings for the bowl starts with bacon. A good amount, but not a crazy amount! Chop it up and crisp it up over low heat in a sturdy skillet.
Once the bacon is crispy, remove it and drain off all the fat except for about 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease in the skillet. Then add in the chopped chard and red chilis. I like to use red Fresno chilis which have a little heat, but aren’t overpowering.
For the chard, you can chop it up roughly, but cut out any of the very thick stems. Then add everything in the pan!
Season the mixture with salt and pepper and it’s time to eat! The chard will cook really quickly.
To finish the polenta bowls, divide the cheesy polenta (or grits) and then top with the chard mixture. Sprinkle on some crispy bacon and fresh scallions and you are in business.
This is a rich dish, but also feels somehow light. It’s perfect for a chilly winter day, but I’ll vouch for it also being delicious on a 70 degree F. February day.