I am somewhat surprised that I only learned how good polenta is in my later years. I don’t remember even having polenta when we lived in New England. I think it was only after we moved to California that I ever tried it. I am pretty sure the first time was when I bought one of those “polenta logs” and used it to make a dish, which I think was baked polenta with mozzarella and tomato sauce. It was good. But it got me interested in what was polenta exactly; it sounded mysterious and exotic. Come to find out that it is nothing but plain old cornmeal. I found that you can make it yourself anytime. I have learned a few tricks along the way which I would like to share.
First polenta is just a canvas for other flavors, much like pasta. I like to enrichen it with chicken broth rather than cook it with water. You can make a delicious polenta with just salt, water and butter, but I also like to liven it up with some onion, garlic, and Parmesan. One important trick is to make a slurry with the polenta and the liquid before adding it to the boiling water or stock. This helps greatly to prevent formation of lumps while cooking. Also add baking soda to the polenta, according to the America’s Test Kitchen folks, it reduces cooking time and makes for a creamier polenta.
You can put it in the oven or cook on the stovetop. The stovetop method, while a bit more fussy and time-consuming, causes a bit of the polenta to congeal at the bottom of the pot, brown and enhance the overall flavor. So it is my preferred method, though it makes clean-up a bit more of a chore.
For tonight, I am going to brown some sliced Italian sausages and serve them over the polenta with a tossed green salad.
|Works great with just plain old cornmeal. Adding a pinch of baking soda helps soften the cornmeal while it cooks and reduces cooking time.
2 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup, red onion – finely chopped
2 cloves, garlic – finely chopped
1 quart, chicken or vegetable stock – divided
1 cup, polenta or coarse ground corn meal
5 tablespoons, unsalted butter (divided)
1 pinch, baking soda
1 teaspoon, kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon, freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces, Parmesan cheese – grated
2 tablespoons, balsamic vinegar – optional
- In a large oven-safe saucepan or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.
- Blend the corn meal with one cup of the chicken stock. Add a pinch of baking soda.
- Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken or vegetable stock, bring to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal and stock mixture while continually whisking. Once you have added all the cornmeal, cover the pot. You may place it in a 350 degree preheated oven, or reduce the heat to low and cook over the burner. In either case, you must stir it every few minutes or so. After about 30 to 40 minutes, it will become creamy.
- Remove from the oven or burner and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the Parmesan.
- For a treat, serve drizzled with a small amount of balsamic vinegar.
Cooking in the oven is the easiest way to prepare this; you only need to stir it every 10 minutes. But cooking on the stovetop causes a bit of the polenta at the bottom of the pan to brown or even burn a bit, which adds a distinctive smoky flavor to the dish. You must stir the stovetop version fairly frequently.