Sunday, December 21, 2008

depression = polenta and fried eggs

If my last recipe wasn't thrifty enough for you, then hold on, because this is about as cheap as one can possibly eat. Everyone is saying that the economy will only get worse, so enjoy potato leek soup while you can - it may soon be a luxury.

Every so often, our family faces an empty refrigerator, and just when we're about to order pizza or consider going out, we go back to this recipe as an extremely simple, delicious meal from pantry staples. Polenta, or grits if you live below the Mason-Dixon, are a true blessing to the weeknight chef. Otherwise known as coarsely ground cornmeal, polenta is available at any grocery store, and many co-ops offer it in their bulk sections. It keeps in your pantry indefinitely, so it's an item every home chef should have on hand. Also, if you live in the Midwest, polenta is often ground from local corn - a good way to continue eating locally during the cold winter months.

Aside from olive oil and parmesan cheese, the only other ingredients you'll need are eggs. At around $3.00 per dozen, organic eggs are perhaps the cheapest source of animal protein available to the frugal locavore. You could save money buying conventional, manufactured eggs, but once you learn about the conditions in which those birds live, you'll be happy to shell out an extra dollar for some ethical, quality product. Besides, if you eat eggs as a way to cut down on the amount of meat you buy, spending a little extra should not be a big deal.

I saw this specific recipe in the NYT's Dining section, which is an excellent source for simple meal ideas (especially the Mark Bittman articles). Serve it with a salad or some sauteed greens for a complete, balanced meal.

This recipe serves 4 people.


  • 4 1/2 cups low-sodium broth or water
  • 1 1/2 cups polenta (not quick-cooking), coarse corn meal or corn grits
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
  • 1 1-ounce chunk or 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 large eggs
  • Coarse sea salt for garnish.
  1. In a large pot, bring broth or water to a simmer. Stir in the polenta and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to taste, 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in butter and pepper; cover pot to keep warm.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler, slice cheese into slivers, or grate it on largest holes of a box grater.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until very hot. Fry 4 eggs until edges are crispy and yolks still runny. Repeat with remaining oil and eggs.
  4. Pile polenta into 4 bowls and top with cheese and then fried eggs. Garnish with sea salt and more pepper and serve.

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