01 March 2012

Polenta


Polenta―made with corn meal―is a staple in our house in autumn and winter (it can actually be hard to find locally during the warmer seasons). I love how polenta shares the same versatility as eggs or potatoes or spring onions...it pairs well with countless other things, and the possibilities are endless.

When I first moved to Italy I thought the only option for producing the proper consistency was to stand by the stove, stirring constantly for the required fifty minutes. But then I discovered the baking method, in which the mixture only needs to be stirred once toward the end of the cooking period. I love how quick and simple this is―you mix it right up in the pan it's baked in―and it can stand alone or make a wonderful accompaniment to meats, vegetables, cheese and eggs.

I usually serve polenta as an evening meal, but decided to make it for lunch so I could take advantage of the sunlight and photograph the ingredients. So, before winter gets away (and just in time for those of you in the southern hemisphere), here's the recipe... 

First, a few notes ~
  • Pan size: I tend to favor my 8-inch square 'cake' pan, but a 9-inch round pan or anything with a similar area is fine.
  • Polenta: I prefer the bramata variety, which is coarsely ground. 'Instant' versions are also available, but I have never tried them (and they would likely be quicker cooked on the stove).
  • Herbs: These can be anything you like/have on hand: sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram are those I have tried.
  • Stirring: Initially, the ingredients will separate after being stirred, but they will have come together nicely by the time you take the pan out to stir at the forty-minute point.
  • Serving: We love to eat the just-cooked polenta with a dollop of Gorgonzola or a scattering of Parmesan shavings and served alongside a simple salad of greens and a red onion & pancetta omelet or a fried egg...
  • Leftovers: As it cools, the polenta will become firm. I smooth any leftovers into a layer roughly 2 cm deep, in preparation for future use. Cut into little triangles and brushed with olive oil, the polenta can then be fried in a pan or crisped under the broiler; these little wedges can be topped with Gorgonzola or Parmesan, or simply sprinkled with a little salt. Recently I ladled some leftover balsamic pork (recipe on this page) over chunks of polenta that had been quickly warmed in the microwave; the polenta made a nice contrast to the pork, which in turn beautifully flavored the polenta.

Recipe
For four servings

Set the oven to 350 F/175 C.
In an 8-inch square baking pan, stir together:
1 cup polenta flour (cornmeal);
4½ cups water;
generous drizzles of olive oil;
several grindings of salt & pepper
Submerge
a few sprigs of sage & marjoram
in the mixture (they will likely promptly float to the top, but will integrate during baking).

Bake for about forty minutes (don't worry if the oven hasn't yet reached 350 F/175 C), then remove to give it a good stir, making sure to incorporate any polenta that's clinging to the sides. Return to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, until the top begins to form a slight crust.

Give the mixture another thorough stir, then spoon into shallow bowls, top with a generous dollop of gorgonzola and grindings of salt and pepper.

Before sitting down to eat, smooth any leftovers in a shallow, more or less uniform layer across the pan, as it will begin firming up immediately. (Alternatively, you can pour it onto a wooden board.) With the slightest prodding of a flat-edged wooden spoon, it will 'peel' right off the surface of the pan/board when cool.

The polenta just before the 40-minute stirring.

Polenta in its simplest form, with a little Gorgonzola waiting to be swirled through.

1 comment:

  1. Aha! Found it, Lisa - thank you so much for pointing me in the delicious polenta direction. We'll try this approach next time. I love reading your blog/work, as always. Bisoux!!

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