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Polenta with pancetta and greens

In my previous post I waffled on about what it meant to be healthy. Well, I want to briefly continue that subject here. After all, I am writing this post straight after. But don’t worry, I won’t bang on as long this time…

On Food and Drink this week the theme was ‘healthy eating’, so I watched with great interest. I really agreed strongly with the programme’s approach to the subject. Monica Galleti cooked a lovely simple quail dish, with squash and lentils. There was animal fat in the mix, olive oil – the meal was simple, whole, natural – and it looked delicious. Lots of protein, and complex carbs too, as well as some fat, for flavour.

We should be encouraging people to cook and eat proper food. Food should be enjoyed, savoured. We need some animal fat, cheese and so on to make food taste good. Just eat them in small amounts! When you are satisfied by 3 good meals, you actually won’t need to snack, but the occasional homemade treat is fine.

This dish is in that same spirit. It’s got healthy vegetables and grains in there. But a little animal fat too – pancetta this good is really flavoursome so you don’t need much. Cheese and butter too, but in small amounts to season the dish.

This is the first time I ever cooked polenta! Unbelievable! I am happy with how it went. I cooked too much (I halved the amounts for recipe below). But that’s OK, I have some leftover which I think I’ll fry in set slices and have with good sausages or something. It was very easy and very tasty. And, served with some healthy greens spruced up with our local butcher’s salty/sweet pancetta cut into cubes, made for a wonderful, easy midweek dinner.

It’s got a lot going for it, polenta. It’s cheap, it’s very easy to prepare. And it’s a great backdrop, like pasta, to punchy flavours and sauces. Think of it like a sweet tasting mix between mash and cous cous. You could use quick cook polenta, which apparently is just as good, but quicker, which sounds perfect! You could cook this ‘normal’ polenta for less time, but it’s better to give it a long cook for creaminess…

My daughter really really loved it. She kept coming back for more, even eating the greens. It’s got that nice sweet and soft texture that most kids enjoy. My recipe below halves the amount of polenta I made, as I had lots of leftovers. Have a go!

Serves: 3 adults
Prep time: 0 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes 
Total time: 40 minutes

150g polenta (I used ‘proper’ but quick cook is just as good, but quicker)
900ml of water or chicken stock (I had some to use up, so used the latter)
25g parmesan
25g butter
Salt and pepper

200g spring cabbage greens, sliced thinly
100g pancetta, cubed

To serve: 
More parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper


  1. To cook the polenta, simply bring a pot of water or stock to the boil, add some salt, then pour in the polenta, whisking. Whisk for ten minutes, then cook on low, stirring every few minutes or so, for about half an hour. Add butter and parmesan with more seasoning if needed at the end. 
  2. Meanwhile, steam your shredded greens for about 5 minutes, till al dente. Drain. 
  3. Slowly fry the pancetta over a low heat, so all the fat renders down. This takes a while, don’t rush it – you’re waiting for the polenta anyway. It’s ready when it’s crispy and there is lots of oil in the pan. Add the steamed and drained cabbage to the pancetta pan and toss. 
  4. Serve a large dollop of creamy polenta topped with greens and bacon. Add more cheese and a swirl of oil. Soooooo goooooood!


  1. August 15, 2014 / 9:12 am

    Great recipe, in fact my daughter liked it too and asked for more. Its not that hard to cook though..

  2. August 18, 2014 / 2:46 pm

    Hi Paulina – I'm so glad to hear you made this for your daughter. It's quite a posh dish and not one you might think of for kids, but yeah my daughter loved it too! Just goes to show you, they don't always want sausages and chips! : )

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