Two quick and easy seasonal side dishes: polenta with tomatoes, and peas with onions
Feasts, if you’ve managed to plan one for this weekend, can all too easily be dominated by The One Big Thing: for example, a whole leg of lamb as tradition dictates at Easter. For me, however, the fun – by which I mean the simple, tasty dishes that always see people reaching for more – lies more often in the quick and easy, fresh and fast sides. Here I offer two such dishes: they’re both good to go for this weekend’s big meal or to file away until spring is fully sprung and we can all, hopefully, venture out into the sun.
Cheesy polenta with tomato sauce
This understated side dish is dressed up enough to keep everyone at the table happy, but simple enough not to steal the show from the main course. It would pair really well with roast chicken or grilled seafood. You can make the sauce well in advance – just warm it through while you’re cooking the polenta – but don’t make the polenta until just before you’re about to serve, otherwise it’s likely to set.
Prep 20 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4 as a side
For the sauce
1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges (150g net weight)
150g datterini tomatoes, or regular cherry tomatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
750g vine tomatoes, core removed and finely chopped into 1cm dice (seeds and all)
1 tsp caster sugar
5g oregano sprigs (leaves and stalks), plus 1½ tbsp leaves extra to serve (or use basil or parsley instead)
Salt and black pepper
For the polenta
500ml chicken stock
350ml whole milk
60g unsalted butter
200g quick-cook polenta
150g gruyère, roughly grated
Put a large saute pan on a high heat and, once very hot, add the onion wedges and cook, turning regularly, for about six minutes, until very well charred on the outside. Transfer to a plate, then put the tomatoes in the same pan and char for another four minutes, or until nicely blistered in places. Transfer to the onion plate, but keep the two separate, and put the pan aside to cool slightly.
Return the pan to a medium-high heat and add the oil and charred onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about two minutes, until slightly softened, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the chopped vine tomatoes, sugar, oregano sprigs, 150ml water, a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Bring up to a simmer, then turn down the the heat to medium and leave to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have started to break down. Add the charred tomatoes and cook for seven minutes more, until they’ve started to soften and the sauce has thickened. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Put the stock, milk, 100ml water, half the butter, a teaspoon and a quarter of salt and a good grind of pepper in a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat to medium-low and pour in the polenta in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously, until completely incorporated. Carry on whisking for two to three minutes more, or until the polenta is cooked and the mixture is still quite wet and loose.
Stir in the cheese and remaining butter, then spread out the polenta on a large platter. Spoon the tomato sauce on to the polenta, gently swirling some of it in, top with the extra oregano leaves and serve warm.
Peas and onions
The natural sweetness of the peas and onions goes a long way to making this very simple dish, with very few ingredients, taste rather special.
Prep 10 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4 as a side
2 tbsp unsalted butter
60ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
500g frozen petit pois, defrosted
10g chives, finely chopped
Put the butter, two tablespoons of oil, the onions and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt in a large saute pan on a medium heat, and cook for 16-18 minutes, stirring often, until soft and deeply golden. Transfer half the onions to a small bowl with the remaining two tablespoons of oil, stir and set aside.
Add the peas, 350ml water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt to the onion pan and cook on a medium-high heat for another 14 minutes, until the peas are very soft – you can help them along a bit by crushing some of them with a potato masher.
Stir in the chives, then transfer the pea mix to a large plate. Spoon the bowl of onions and oil haphazardly over the top and serve.