The Polenta Post

January 30, 2006 | By | COMMENTS

Foodies are often polenta bullies. “You should have polenta in your pantry,” they’ll tell you. “I make polenta all the time,” they’ll brag. “I named my first born child Polenta,” they’ll confess. Foodies really love polenta.

And so tonight I adopted a “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy and fried up some polenta, which I presented on my new Ikea plate with fresh made Marcella Hazan tomato sauce. Check it out!

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Has this turned me from one of the polenta picked-upons to a polenta picker on-er? Click ahead to find out…

Well yes. This polenta dish was a great alternative to pasta and required just a tiny drop more work. Now, you polenta purists will frown when I tell you that I used instant polenta and not the long cooking kind. But think of this as my polenta training wheels: eventually I’ll ride a two-wheeler and stir polenta for a whole hour, but for now we went the instant route. (Lidia Bastianich, in fact, says instant polenta is fine if you don’t have the time.)

The recipe I used wasn’t Lidia’s, though, it was (cue the BMW) my beloved Barefoot Contessa’s. Her recipes always just make the most sense and promise the maximum flavor. Here, instead of water–for example–she has you form your polenta with butter, olive oil, milk and chicken stock. That’s so much better than water! Do you see why I love my Contessa?

So I halved her recipe. If you want her full recipe, grab a calculator and double this one. She has you use corn meal (is that more authentic?) but I used my instant polenta. It worked fine. You can be very casual with polenta. Wear it with khaki pants and sandals and you’re set for the beach!

Let’s start by melting half a stick of unsalted butter with a few Tbs of olive oil (half 1/4 cup):

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That was easy, wasn’t it?

As that’s going, you can get your mise en place. Here’s mine:

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Do you love how impeccably clean my kitchen is? (Ignore the loose polenta in the sink.) So chop two cloves of garlic (after reading Mark Bittman’s testimonial about how most chefs use pre-peeled garlic, I bought a container of it and I’ve been using it; it is much easier, though it makes me feel guilty); chop some thyme if you have it (mine was a week old but I still used it; BC’s recipe calls for rosemary, so that’s better if you’re going to buy it); grate 1/4 cup of Parmesan; measure out 2 cups of milk (or, if you want to be a true Contessa, 1 cup milk, 1 cup half and half (I just used milk)), 1.5 cups chicken stock, and fill a 1 cup measure with your instant polenta or cornmeal. (I actually added more later to thicken it up, so I’d advise 1.25 cups of polenta… or as needed). That’s all your prep work.

Now add the garlic, the thyme (or rosemary), a few grinds of red pepper flakes, a tiny drop of kosher salt and some pepper to the butter/oil mixture. Let it sizzle for a minute and then add the chicken stock and milk:

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Bring that to a boil, take off the heat and slowly whisk in the polenta. Once it’s whisked in return to a low flame and whisk until it’s thick and bubbly. (This was where I added more polenta to make it thicker.) Soon it looked like this:

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And when it was thick I added it to this 9-inch cake pan:

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This I placed in the fridge, and began my Marcella Hazan tomato sauce. Here is my theory about Marcella Hazan tomato sauce: it is the easiest, most impossible to mess up sauce in the world. You pour a can of tomatoes into a pot, you squeeze them with your hands, you add 2 Tbs of butter, some garlic, some thyme and you turn on the heat. You bring it to a boil. You lower to a simmer. Wait 30 minutes, add some salt, and you have this:

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[This looks much redder than it should. It wasn't this red in real life.]

Now that your sauce is done, remove the cake pan from the fridge. Plop the polenta onto a cutting board:

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Trim into squares and slice the squares in half:

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Now you fry them up. Sprinkle them with flour and place 1 Tbs of butter and 1 Tbs of olive oil in a skillet. Heat on medium heat and add the polenta wedges:

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After a few minutes, flip them over:

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Ignore the gimpy one on the upper right.

Now simple remove from the pan, place on your Ikea plate and spoon the sauce over. [See opening photo for example.] I grated some fresh Parmesan over the top and had myself a delicious dinner. I became a polenta convert. I was baptised in polenta. I have seen the light of polenta and it seared my eyes yellow. WON’T YOU JOIN US? WON’T YOU MAKE POLENTA? YOU MUST MAKE POLENTA. IF YOU CARE ABOUT FOOD, YOU MUST MAKE POLENTA…

Categories: Recipes, Sides

  • http://www.fromourkitchen.blogspot.com From Our Kitchen

    I’m glad to see you have become a polenta-lover! I think it’s great and eat it all the time. I often just eat it soft with butter and cheese melting on top. Yum!

  • http://www.thedailykirk.blogs.com The Daily Kirk

    Jesus. You food people are creeping me out.

    I finally wrote another blog so I thought I would just pop by to steal some of your readers. Looking good though. How come you never cook for me?

  • http://wellfed.typepad.com/well_fed/ Grant

    I too love the Barefoot Contessa’s polenta recipe, although I usually omit the milk and/or cream and use only chicken stock and it still tastes great. I think soft polenta is a good alternative to mashed potatoes. I have not really gotten into frying up the polenta as you show, but it looks fantastic. I’ll have to give it a try. Have you ever made risotto cakes?

  • http://hereandthere123.blogspot.com Deb

    I love polenta with fresh ricotta and a bit of pesto on top. MMMM. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Ron

    What did you do with all the round edges you cut off to make the squares? Why not put it in a square cake pan to begin with? This looks great! I’m gonna try it.

  • http://mamahen.blogware.com Jen

    must.make.polenta.

  • http://www.amateurgourmet.com The Amateur Gourmet

    Hey Ron, you’re supposed to put it in a square pan but the smallest square (or rectangle) pan I had was 13 X 9 and I thought that would make my polenta too thin. So I went the circle cake pan route and trimed off the edges and threw them out. It was terribly wasteful.

    ALSO: No one’s noticed yet that I forgot to tell you what to do with the cheese. After the polenta thickens up and BEFORE you add it to the pan, stir in the parmesan off the heat. Then pour it in the pan. Enjoy!

    Polenta Man

  • http://angusindex.blogspot.com emily

    Oh benevolent AG, always looking out for your readers… :P Polenta is a many-splendored thing — I like it with mascarpone cheese stirred in, then baked with walnuts and parm on top, mmmmmm.

  • http://thepearlonion.blogspot.com/ The Pearl Onion

    Oh, I was so not aware of this polenta snobbery. Mmm…I just might have to try to make some now…Oh, I am so weak when it comes to food…

  • Sil

    I love polenta with Bolognesa Sauce…

    Loved this post! (all of them in fact)

  • pitu

    Love this post . . .

    but if you really care about food you’ll make chickpea fritters.

    Or creamy polenta with sweet fennel sausage.

    (god, I hate food rules)

  • gidget bananas

    Polenta a great base for flavors, just like a basic risotto. And polenta with sausage rules!

  • Micky

    Authentic polenta: Corn meal can be ground fine, medium, or coarse. Polenta is generally medium or coarse corn meal. The corn meal you buy at a store is generally a finer grind, which is why coarser ground corn meal is sometimes marketed as Polenta.

  • http://www.joannou.net brian w

    Wait a second, tell us more about this pre-peeled garlic thing…does it come in a jar? Packed in oil or something? I’m having some garlic issues lately (my local supermarkets have rather anemic garlic, plus my apartment is really dry and it tends to get dessicated quickly) so I’m curious.

    (I must admit, I’m having bad flashbacks to those jars of chopped garlic with no taste!)

  • http://mnlove.blogspot.com Kim

    I guess I’m in the minority here. I can’t eat it (believe me, I’ve tried!). I’m a texture eater and just can’t seem to get used to the texture of polenta.

  • http://girlgraceless.com Kate

    Guh. I am dead now from all the polenta goodness.

    I haven’t tried frying it, because everytime I fry something I either end up with oil in my eye or food stuck to my pan. Apparently I’m very bad at it. I like stuffing peppers with polenta and putting fresh tomatoes over them.

  • Jonathan

    Her polenta is wonderful. I also have made it as a side dish (no tomato sauce), served with some green vegetables. Then I have done a roast tenderloin and served it with her Stilton sauce. Makes for a great sit down dinner which is easy to prepare. One has to love the Contessa!!!!

  • http://sweetnapa.blogspot.com/ Nina

    Looks terrific! The last time–and only time–I made polenta with a basic recipe with pretty much just water and butter, I ended up adding sugar and cinnamon for a dessert porridge… This makes me want to try again. :) Cool site, by the way!

  • http://www.annecuisine.blogspot.com AnneCuisine

    Hi, This entry is wonderful. You see, I too have a confession to make. I’m a foodie, I live in France and have been cooking up some serious French food for years. But polenta… well… It’s just that… OK, I chalked it up to not being Italian. The dish is great but I’ve been intimidated by it for years. I only eat it when I can order it when out.

    But, this entry, well, now you hit a soft spot. Now I want to make it. I agree with you, the Contessa’s ingredients for cooking polenta have much more flavor to them than just plain water.

    Thanks for the confession.

    Thanks for the recipe. (I’ll use instant too!)

    Thanks for the courage!

    ~Anne

  • zeep

    wow, this looks amazing Adam! good work my friend….you have inspired me once again.

    keep on keepin’ on,

    zeep

  • http://www.viciousange.blogspot.com Ange

    Your polenta looks lovely. I love the taste & texture of polenta though up til now I have alwasy served it ‘wet’. Will have to try cooling & frying next time as I have eaten it this way & its even better, may just try your recipe too!

  • Joan

    I love your site! When I was little and my mother used to make polenta, I’d hide under the bed to avoid eating it. But my Italian grandmother used to save up her various cheese scraps in the freezer, and when she had enough, stir them into her polenta. This is the best way to eat it! Yummmmm!

  • http://jnemiller.gather.com Esther

    I’m so glad you have this polenta recipe posted. I borrowed the book from the library and just loved this recipe. (Of course, I didn’t write it down though).

    I’ve been wanting to make it again, but that desire usually disappears before I remember to borrow the book.

    I’m glad you halved the recipe, because the original makes enough to feed a crowd.

    Yummy!

  • Judy

    Try making lasagna with polenta…very yummy and much better for you than lasagna noodles made from highly processed ingredients. Just cut cooled polenta in strips approximately the size of a lasagna noodle and prepare the same as you would normally.

  • http://whatsinthepot.blogspot.com Faux Gourmet

    This looks great! Will have to try it next time I make polenta. Check out some more ideas on my food blog: whatsinthepot.blogspot.com

  • Can’tthinkofaclevername

    I would like to comment that polenta, however trendy it is, is still just corn mush :) I was all cool one day thinking I was hip making polenta and I told my italian grandmother and she just said, oh, corn mush. So, kudos to making it cool and don’t let it look down on you :)

  • http://cookingquest.wordpress.com Joe

    Hello, love your blog. I just made polenta a few days ago with Gorgonzola cheese and heavy cream. It was pretty darn good so if you have time come check it out and let me know what you think.

    http://cookingquest.wordpress.com

  • http://cookingquest.wordpress.com Joe

    Hello, love your blog. I just made polenta a few days ago with Gorgonzola cheese and heavy cream. It was pretty darn good so if you have time come check it out and let me know what you think.

    http://cookingquest.wordpress.com

  • wigbendy

    MMMMMM!! I’m jumpin’ on the polenta train! I’ve been scouring the web looking for something tasty and approachable, with out a lot of frufru stuff I don’t have in my house regularly (I do have cheese!)

    I

  • http://fawnahareo.com Fawn

    It must be fun to get comments on posts you made two years ago! I Googled for polenta recipes and came across this one. I didn’t make the sauce, but found it tasty enough without. Thanks so much! Every time I’ve tried polenta before, the results were bland and uninteresting. This one’s a real winner. :)

    Greetings from the Yukon!

  • http://zinke.wordpress.com vanessa

    Have you tried Polenta Souffle!? (TO DIE FOR!)

  • Icefire

    It looks delicous. I am excited to do polenta for a school project. Thats for the idea.

  • http://www.sassymolassy.blogspot.com Kristy

    Polenta from scratch can really be quite simple. Whisk a cup and a half of coarse corn meal into about 4 1/2boiling, lightly salted water, cover and reduce heat to medium low, and stir every three or four minutes. After about 20 minutes it should start pulling away from the pan. Remove from heat, throw in a handful of shredded parm or romano and half a stick of butter, stir to melt, and turn into a small (8X10) rectangular baking dish. Let sit for ten minutes and it will be firm enough to cut squares and serve or fry. Easy peasy, and delicious.

  • http://www.sassymolassy.blogspot.com Kristy

    Polenta from scratch can really be quite simple. Whisk a cup and a half of coarse corn meal into about 4 1/2boiling, lightly salted water, cover and reduce heat to medium low, and stir every three or four minutes. After about 20 minutes it should start pulling away from the pan. Remove from heat, throw in a handful of shredded parm or romano and half a stick of butter, stir to melt, and turn into a small (8X10) rectangular baking dish. Let sit for ten minutes and it will be firm enough to cut squares and serve or fry. Easy peasy, and delicious.

  • http://www.sassymolassy.blogspot.com Kristy

    Polenta from scratch can really be quite simple. Whisk a cup and a half of coarse corn meal into about 4 1/2boiling, lightly salted water, cover and reduce heat to medium low, and stir every three or four minutes. After about 20 minutes it should start pulling away from the pan. Remove from heat, throw in a handful of shredded parm or romano and half a stick of butter, stir to melt, and turn into a small (8X10) rectangular baking dish. Let sit for ten minutes and it will be firm enough to cut squares and serve or fry. Easy peasy, and delicious.

  • http://www.sassymolassy.blogspot.com Kristy

    Polenta from scratch can really be quite simple. Whisk a cup and a half of coarse corn meal into about 4 1/2boiling, lightly salted water, cover and reduce heat to medium low, and stir every three or four minutes. After about 20 minutes it should start pulling away from the pan. Remove from heat, throw in a handful of shredded parm or romano and half a stick of butter, stir to melt, and turn into a small (8X10) rectangular baking dish. Let sit for ten minutes and it will be firm enough to cut squares and serve or fry. Easy peasy, and delicious.

  • touchdowndog

    never found a true italian that used those”extra ingredients” just water,seasoning,and cook. i don’t think llidia spouts use of your extra ingredients either….ps i have two professional cooks in my family,,one took his apprentice-ship under wolfgang puck and the other emeril. both seem to agreed you are on the wrong side of the tracks with this recipe.