The Polenta Post

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!


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):


That was easy, wasn’t it?

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


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:


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:


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


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:


[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:


Trim into squares and slice the squares in half:


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:


After a few minutes, flip them over:


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…

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