Polenta often earns its creaminess from butter or cheese or both. This vegan version needs neither. Instead, cashews and asparagus are blanched until soft, then whirled into a satiny puree you’ll want to lap up by the bowlful. Don’t. Swirl it into the warm polenta, which has a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it cheesiness, courtesy of nutritional yeast. You could call this dinner and done—but, better to use all of these ingredients once more. Stir-fry asparagus and cashews until glowy and golden, then toss with more nutritional yeast because once you start, it’s hard to stop. You’ll see.
- Combine the cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, and 5 cups (1.2L) water in a pot and set over medium-high heat to come to a boil, whisking often. When it starts to boil, drop the heat to low, cover the pot, and set a timer for 40 minutes. Every 5 minutes, whisk the polenta.
- Meanwhile, set a pot with 4 cups (950ml) water over medium-high heat. Separate the asparagus into two groups: 1 ¼ pounds (570g) and 12 ounces (340g). Trim the woody ends. Chop the bigger group into 2-inch (5cm) pieces, and chop the smaller group into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces.
- When the water reaches a boil, generously season it with salt. Add the smaller group of asparagus plus ½ cup (70g) of the cashews. Cook for 5 minutes, until tender, then use a spider to transfer the asparagus and cashews to a blender. Add ¼ cup (60ml) of the blanching liquid. With the keyhole in the lid open and a towel pressed on top, blend until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Cover to keep warm.
- Set your largest skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it’s hot, add the remaining asparagus and a couple pinches of salt. Cook, tossing as little as possible, until the asparagus is starting to char and is crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Dump the asparagus onto a plate and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the remaining 1 cup (140g) cashews, and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until the cashews are toasty, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat and return the asparagus to the skillet. Drizzle with oil, add 2 tablespoons of the nutritional yeast, and toss. Season with salt to taste.
- When the polenta is done (smooth and thick, with no residual crunch), whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast and season with salt to taste. Divide the polenta among four bowls. Top evenly with the asparagus-cashew puree in polka dots, then use a spoon to swirl. Top each portion with the sautéed asparagus and cashews.