Polenta on Parade

Occasionally, I will get a strong desire to cook with one particular item. Not very long ago, an odd craving came over me for .... polenta. And so, with resolve, I spent the remainder of the night trying to come up with as many interesting, easy, and quick recipes using polenta as possible.

A few hours later -- and with one very messy kitchen -- I came up with two recipes that I would like to share with you. A third recipe, given to me by my friend, also makes the list as it is a very fun appetizer to make and serve. But, before I share these recipes with you, let's quickly discern what exactly polenta is and how it is used.

Corn and other grains are a stable for Central and Northern Italians. And, from corn, comes the coarser ground meal. That meal, too coarse for baking flour, is hearty and rich. When cooked in a broth or even salted water, the meal absorbs the moisture and flavours, softening and taking on the consistency of porridge. And this what we commonly recognize as polenta. Each of our three recipes in this article will begin with the polenta porridge and be transformed from there on in.

Although you can find prepared polenta at the grocery or mega-mart, you will find that these recipes are easy and quick enough to make at home. Purchase a good-quality white corn meal as a base for your polenta.

Polenta bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, herbs and mozzarella

My friend John provided me with this little treat one afternoon. John doesn't cook very much but he soon will need to learn as he will be getting married in less than a year's time. His fiance enjoys these little treats and so we expect John to be learning many more polenta recipes soon.
    Start with two cups boiling water with a pinch of salt thrown in.

    Add one cup meal and stir. Reduce heat as needs be. Stir with a wooden spoon being sure to scrape both the sides and bottom of the pan. As the water is absorbed, the polenta porridge will begin to pull from the sides of the pan. Taste-testing the porridge, be sure that the meal is cooked through to a semi-softness. If not, add more water and continue to stir until it is absorbed. Taste-test again. Take from heat and let sit, covered, for a moment.

    When the porridge has cooled you can either spread it thinly in a baking sheet or spoon dollops of the polenta and thin out each spoonful. Bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 10 minutes. Add more time for more thickly spread polenta. Remove with a spatula when cooled.

    At this point, you can continue the bruschetta or add the following step to increase the texture and appeal of the polenta cakes.

    In light oil, quick-fry both sides of the polenta cakes, draining on paper towel.

    Slice whole tomatoes, sprinkle with a good-quality, first cold-pressed olive oil, chopped cilantro, basil, and pepper. Top with polenta with the tomato slices, oil and seasonings and finish the dress with finely sliced mozzarella. Place under a broiler until cheese melts. Serve.

  • Yields: 1 dozen servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Polenta cheese wedges

This appetizer is served hot from the griddle and is a great hands-on food. I honestly stumbled on this accidentally and was pleasantly surprised as to its appeal to my guests and friends. Oddly enough, it does not actually incorporate the use of the classic porridge.
    Quickly scald 3/4 cup milk and allow to cool until warm. In a glass mixing bowl, add 1 cup meal, the warm milk, a dash of all-purpose flour, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Wisk ingredients together.

    Bring a griddle or fry pan to medium heat.

    Slice a soft white cheese, such as a farmer's cheese, or mozzarella into manageable strips.

    Pour half the meal batter into the griddle or pan. Quickly layer the cheese leaving some space at the batter's perimeter. As the batter cooks, add the remaining batter. Turn and cook the other side.

    Serve immediately and cut into eight equal wedges.

  • Preparation Time: 10 - 15 minutes

Fried polenta pasta in sauce

This dish is hearty, believe me.
    Begin with the porridge from the bruschetta appetizer. When the porridge has cooled, mix 1 egg, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, and seasonings of your choice. Stir together to form a sticky but mouldable batter.

    Roll the batter into small, bite-size balls and coat lightly in flour and corn meal.

    Deep-fry the balls and be sure to drain the balls completely.

    Prepare your favourite tomato sauce and simmer the fried balls. Serve with your favourite Italian sausage and/or a vegetable.

  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

I hope you've enjoyed these "quick and dirty" polenta recipes as much as I have coming up with them. I invite you to provide feedback using the form below, sharing your favourite uses of polenta.