The other week, Mindi and I had a girls night and she made me dinner at her apartment. I've written about our dinners before. There is wine, and therapeutic kvetching about this and that, and usually something good for dessert, and I can kick off my shoes as soon as I walk in the door. Bliss.
After nibbling on carrot sticks and tasty homemade baba ganoush, we got to work on dinner: fried polenta with fresh tomato sauce. I chopped garlic and herbs while Mindi fried up the already-firm polenta she made the night before and refrigerated. (Mindi's smart like that.) A little frying, a little sauteeing, some salad on the side, and dinner was done. She acted like it was no big thing, and truthfully, it didn't take that much time to whip everything up, but it was such a good weeknight meal: simple but satisfying, especially for being meatless.
The polenta squares were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, topped with a chunky sauce and a little shredded mozzarella. The combination reminded me of pizza, which got me thinking about polenta's potential as a pizza crust. I usually make soft polenta at home but haven't really experimented with cornmeal when it's cooled and firm. It seemed like something worth trying--especially since flour is a no-no for me these days.
I found a recipe for a deep-dish polenta pizza from Real Simple that seemed, well, really simple. You whip up a batch of soft polenta, pour it into a pie pan, then add sauce or whatever other toppings you like (I went with mushrooms, olives, and goat cheese), and bake for 30 minutes. The pizza emerged golden and bubbling, very promising-looking. I'd like to say it was a revelation and I'll never go back to regular pizza again. Unfortunately, it was just okay. The crust was kind of akin to cornbread...which...I mean, duh.
Next time, I'll go with Mindi's method of frying the polenta, but add toppings and stick the squares under the broiler, pizza-style. That should do the trick.
Fried polenta with tomato sauce
Simple recipes, both from Giada De Laurentiis.
(Serves about 6 people)
For the polenta:
6 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
To fry the polenta:
3 cups basic polenta
2 cups olive oil, for frying (I think you could use 1 to 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup butter (you could reduce this to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh thyme leaves, leaves only
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
To make the polenta: bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Lightly oil an 11 by 7-inch baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly to 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
To make the sauce: In a saute pan, heat the remaining olive oil and add tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the wine and butter and reduce until sauce has thickened and then add the basil and thyme.
To fry the polenta: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (*Optional). Cut the polenta into 2 by 1-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the polenta pieces until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the polenta pieces to paper towels and drain. Place the polenta pieces on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while cooking the remaining batches. (*We skipped this step and it was fine.)
Transfer the polenta pieces to a serving platter. Serve with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella.