Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tilapia with Asparagus and Spicy Polenta

I spend most of my days discovering new recipes.  Whether it’s researching my favorite chefs’ sites, stumbling around the internet finding intriguing looking dishes, or leaving the Food Network on all day while I mill around the house, I am constantly making a point to remember really interesting recipes I hear about.  “Ooooh!  Guinness chocolate pudding?”  or “Lavender-lemon marmalade.  I’m making that.” But let’s be real.  I bookmark them or promise myself I’ll look them up later and then never do.  There are times when I feel the need to over-plan  menus to the obsessive-compulsive level.  Most of the time, these meals come out good but don’t always live up to the ridiculous preparation I put into them.  The best meals are always throw-togethers; the ones where I see what’s in the house, figure out how I can use them all together, and take a leap.  Maybe it’s because the experimentation and lack of expectations, but I enjoy cooking and eating these dishes the most. 

Since I was stuck home without a car today, dinner tonight ended up being one such throw-together meals.  I came up with a package of frozen tilapia, some rosemary springs, and a quarter of a bag of polenta – my all-time favorite grain – shoved in the back of the cupboard.  It did take a bit of research on my part (mainly looking up the ratio of liquid to grain, I really need to start memorizing those), but this is the easiest and most delicious dinner’s I’ve made in a while: Tilapia with Asparagus and Spicy Polenta.

Okay, one quick rant before I get to the recipe.  When most people – no, let me rephrase that – when most Americans think about a fast, easy dinner they think fast food or something packaged that takes less than 10 minutes to re-heat in your microwave.  And they’re all wrong.  If you just have some basic elements in your kitchen, you can make something that’s quick but healthy as well. 

My Always-Have-In-Kitchen List:
+ variety of spices (salt, pepper, curry, chili powder, cinnamon, etc.)
+ grains (rice, quinoa, polenta, etc.)
+ onions
+ garlic
+ olive oil
+ wild-caught fish in the freezer (Trader Joes has great stuff)
+ salad greens
+ a dozen eggs
+ always, always at least three fruits and vegetables (never, ever canned, sometimes-if-you-really-have-  to frozen).  

Tilapia with Asparagus
3 fillets wild-caught tilapia
3 tbs olive oil
coarse sea-salt
lemon-pepper (regular black pepper works too)
chili powder
smoked paprika
½ yellow onion, sliced
1 small bunch of skinny asparagus, cutinto three inch pieces
3 rosemary sprigs

+ Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.

+ Place each fillet in the middle of a square of tin foil.
+ Season both sides of each fillet with salt, pepper, chili powder, and paprika to your taste.  
+ Drizzle a good helping (about 1 tbs) of olive oil on top of each fillet.
+ Fold the sides of the foil up, creating a little packet.  Fill each with one third of the onion and asparagus, and finish with one sprig of rosemary.
+ Crimp the edges of the foil, sealing the packets.  Then place in a baking dish or on a baking sheet.
+ Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily (test by pulling the fish apart gently with a fork:  if the fish flakes, it’s done; if it resists or is slightly bouncy, it needs a few more minutes.)

Spicy Polenta
2 tbs olive oil
1 ½ tbs garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp rosemary, chopped finely
½ tsp coarse sea-salt
½ tsp pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup polenta
2 tbs salted butter

+ In a medium sauce pan, sauté the garlic, red pepper, rosemary, salt, and pepper in the olive oil for about one minute.

+ Add the vegetable broth and then bring the liquid to a boil.
+ Once the broth is boiling, slowly pour in the polenta, while whisking constantly.  
+ Turn the heat down, bringing the mix to a simmer, whisking occasionally.  
+ When the polenta has thickened, and the liquid is almost completely gone, whisk in the butter.
+ Remove from heat and cover, allowing the polenta to continue to thicken and the flavor of the broth to settle into the grain.