Monday, May 11, 2009

polenta's hidden potential

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.


brooke said...

that looks delicious. i have a polenta dish that i make that always reminds me of a pizza - topped with tomatoes, basil and blue cheese and baked in a skillet. actually, thanks for reminding me - i haven't made it in a while.

Unknown said...

Ha, Brooke, I think I have that same polenta recipe -with gorgonzola, taken from Epicurious like a million years ago? In fact, I think I made it for a dinner with Lisa once with we lived in Cliffside Park!

Lisa said...

Brooke: I need to try the pizza again. Mine just didn't have a creamy texture. It was grainer, like cornbread.

Casey: Yes, I totally remember that! Good times in Cliffside Park. Well, not really.

Daniel said...

The potential of polenta--or "polential," as I like to think of it--has yet to be fully unleashed. I like cornbread; I like pizza. What's wrong with a cornbread pizza? Surely, Pizza Hut would do it. Or maybe you could get Domino's to put pasta in a cornbread bowl and cover it with mashed potatoes and gravy. The polential is limitless!

brooke said...

yes, casey - that is where it's from! i love it - i really need to make it again.

Dana B said...

Dan, don't stop believing!

taco town

Laura said...

I'm sitting here reading while drinking my coffee salivating over the idea of this dish! Sounds like it would be great for breakfast as well as dinner.

Lisa said...

Sophie: Thank you!

Dana: Ohh, Taco Town.

Laura: Thanks, Laura! Yeah, I think it could work for brunch if you were going more savory than sweet.

Vanessa said...

Sometimes I'd give my bf the job of stirring the polenta and he hated it because it was always popping molten polenta bubbles in his face but then I saw that on my bag of golden pheasant polenta there was a recipe for making it in the microwave, and I tried it, and it was awesome. And it took like 15 minutes total and you only had to stir it once!

Lisa said...

We threw away our giant hulking microwave in favor of more counterspace. Those extra few inches really did change my life, but now I'll never get to experience the ease of microwaved polenta. (I hate those little molten bubbles too.)

Daniel said...

Goose your dinner party's polential with Golden Pheasant polenta!

Am I trying too hard to make the polential thing happen?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin