Spend five minutes in the “Diet and Nutrition” section of any bookstore and you may start to wonder what is actually acceptable to eat anymore. The focus is so routinely and squarely on what you can’t have rather than what you can.

NO FAT warns one book.

NO MEAT says another.

NOTHING A CAVEMAN WOULDN’T EAT.

NO FRUIT IN THE MORNING

NO EATING AFTER SIX

and most puzzling to me, NO FOOD WHATSOEVER TWO DAYS A WEEK.

It’s enough to make the well-intentioned head for a box of Entemann’s.

And so, when I got my hands on a copy of  Yummy Supper, a new cookbook by food writer, photographer, and blogger Erin Scott, it felt like a breath of fresh air.  An homage to what you absolutely CAN eat, Erin’s inspiring recipes embrace seasonal, whole, real cooking. It’s a welcome approach, especially coming from someone who actually has to abstain entirely from  an ingredient that features heavily in the American diet: gluten.  If you never read the subhead of the book — 100 Fresh, Luscious & Honest Recipes from a {Gluten-Free} Omnivore — it might be some time before you figured out that this is a gluten-free book at all.

Parmesan Polenta Fries Scott began cutting foods with gluten from her diet after learning she has Celiac Disease, a diagnosis that threw her for a loop at first. Treatment is at once simple (stop eating gluten) and challenging (since it’s a protein that shows up in wheat, rye, and barley, along with untold number of processed foods).  At first, she felt disheartened and wondered how she, a person who always prided herself on eating everything, was going to manage. But when her husband suggested planting a garden — which has since taken over the better part of their Berkeley, California backyard —  a lightbulb went off. She COULD eat everything, every edible green, herb, blossom, vegetable, fruit, and leaf in the yard. No restrictions there at all.

The simplest recipe in the book speaks volumes about Erin’s approach to eating within the confines of being gluten-free. It’s a snack called Avocado Mama-Style. And it’s just this: a halved avocado doused with lemon juice and a pinch of salt, eaten with a spoon. The result has all the saltiness, tang, and creamy texture that one looks for in a snack. It just doesn’t happen to come out of a bag or box labeled “gluten-free”, “low carb”, “sugar-free”, or vegan, even though it is all of these things. The recipe is a reminder that with all of the processed foods we’re told to snack on, sometimes the very best we can do for ourselves is far simpler.

I suggest you eat everything in Yummy Supper, starting first and foremost with these Polenta Fries, which are crispy Parmesan-studded deliciousness that will do anything but make you feel like you’re missing out.  Indeed, the recipe suggests warming up leftovers in the toaster oven for breakfast. No such luck over here, since we managed quite successfully to eat every last cheesy, finger-lickin’ polenta crumb.

Parmesan Polenta Fries
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Parmesan Polenta Fries

Crispy on the outside, fluffy and tender on the inside, these polenta fries can be enjoyed in so many ways. Serve them for dipping into soup or a steaming bowl of mussels, or with poached eggs or warm beans. By cutting the polenta into smaller squares before baking, you can quickly transform the fries into croutons and scatter them onto a big salad. You get the picture--these tasty guys are versatile and damned good. Tip: I use instant polenta in this recipe to keep the prep easier, but if you've got time on your hands, feel free to use slow-cooking polenta.
Servings 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • Sea salt
  • 1 cup instant polenta
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring 31/2 cups water, with a generous pinch of sea salt, to a boil in a large heavy-bottom saucepan. Once you have a rolling boil, slowly pour the polenta into the water while whisking continuously. Turn the heat down to medium-high and continue whisking for 2 to 3 minutes, until the polenta has thickened and is cooked through. Stir in the butter and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan. Season with ample freshly ground black pepper and plenty of sea salt to taste.
  2. Transfer the warm polenta to an 11" x 7" baking dish. Using the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, smooth the polenta into an even layer. Let the polenta cool and firm up in your fridge for at least 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Cut the polenta into 2 1/2" x 1/2" (finger-size) strips. (If you want to make croutons, cut the strips into smaller squares.) Place the polenta strips/cubes onto the baking sheet(s). Don't overcrowd the strips--they need some room to brown on the sides. Slide the baking sheet(s) into the oven. After 10 minutes, flip the fries, sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, return to the oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot.
  5. If you have any leftover fries, toast them up in the oven the next day for breakfast.

Reprinted from “Yummy Supper” by Erin Scott. Copyright (c) 2014 by Erin Scott. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

Photo Credit: Erin Scott