Cooking Cove: Potatoes, pasta and polenta … supporting role stars

Cooking Cove: Potatoes, pasta and polenta … supporting role stars

By Barbara Beltrami

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that often dishes that start out cast in supporting roles end up being the stars of a meal. I’m thinking of things like potatoes au gratin or pasta with a creamy lemon sauce or polenta with green chilies. A dry overdone piece of meat or poultry doesn’t stand a chance next to a savory side dish; a piece of overdone or (worse) underdone fish pales next to such tasty accompaniments. And so, before you know it, a side dish becomes a main dish and, served up with a veggie or salad, takes on a life of its own. As with so many simple recipes, this is where you get to be creative and dream up your own versions and variations with additions or even deletions.

Angel Hair Pasta with Creamy Lemon Sauce and Prosciutto

YIELD: Makes 2 to 4 servings


¾ pound angel hair pasta (capellini)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 slices prosciutto, chopped

1 large shallot, minced

¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Juice and grated zest of two lemons

1 cup heavy cream

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste


Cook pasta according to package directions. Set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter and oil and sauté the prosciutto and shallot for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley, lemon zest and cream and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Add cooked pasta to skillet, toss to coat, then add lemon juice, a little at a time until desired tartness is achieved and cook over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed by pasta. Serve hot or warm with fresh asparagus, peas or a light green salad.

 Potatoes au Gratin

YIELD: Makes 6 servings


Nonstick cooking spray

6 medium potatoes, very thinly sliced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup minced onion

3 tablespoons flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 cups milk

½ cup half and half

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup unflavored breadcrumbs


Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat bottom and sides of 2-quart casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange potato slices evenly in dish. In medium saucepan or skillet, melt three tablespoons of the butter; add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft. Stirring constantly, add flour, salt and pepper; continue cooking until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat.  

Add milk and half and half, return to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil, then boil and stir for one minute, until it thickens. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Pour mixture over potatoes; sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 30 minutes; remove foil and bake another hour, until liquid is absorbed by potatoes and top is golden brown. Remove from oven; let sit 10 minutes, then serve immediately with a crisp mixed green salad.

Polenta with Green Chili Peppers, Tomatoes and Manchego Cheese

YIELD: Makes 4 servings


Nonstick cooking spray

2 cups milk

1 cup water

¾ cup yellow cornmeal

3 garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

17-ounce can whole green chilies, drained and diced

1 cup diced fresh tomatoes

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups grated manchego cheese

½ cup melted unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the milk, water, cornmeal, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. Stirring constantly with a wire whisk, bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to cook and stir until mixture thickens, about 10 to 12 minutes. 

With a rubber spatula, scrape half the mixture into the baking dish; sprinkle half the chilies, half the tomatoes, half the grated Parmesan and half the manchego. Drizzle half the melted butter over top. Starting with remaining polenta, repeat procedure and finish with remaining melted butter. Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a spinach and mushroom salad.