Friday, January 30, 2009



If I tell you that polenta is Italian corn mush, you'll go on to the music right now and not even give it a chance. But if you read the recipe, you'll discover the truth for yourself anyway, so I might as well address the issue right up front. But I hope you'll stay with me. While it's true polenta is basically made from corn meal that's been cooked in liquid and then allowed to solidify into a sliceable mass, this luscious concoction is to corn mush what turkey dressing is to bread soaked in water. It cooks into a rich cake whose corn nuttiness will consort with all sorts of flavors, and it's a tasty and easy carbohydrate when you've had enough mashed potatoes or pasta but still have some terrific sauce you want to complement. And the leftovers make a great snack. (Take it from me!)

This recipe is based on one from Ina Garten, Food TV's "Barefoot Contessa." I took her basic Rosemary Polenta and made my own additions. I'll also tell you that this was the very first time I ever made the dish, after being curious about it for a long time. It came out perfect--that's how easy it is. The only thing you may not have right on hand is parchment paper, which you should use because it makes things a lot simpler. And you need not worry about "authenticity" when it comes to buying the corn meal. It doesn't need to be an expensive import. I used the standard yellow American stone-ground product you can find anywhere. Just one precaution: refrigerate or freeze the the corn meal package after you open it. As with any whole-grain product, the oil in the seed germ can go rancid after a prolonged stay at room temperature in the pantry.

If you're feeding a crowd, the recipe doubles easily.

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/8 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
salt and pepper to taste--go easy on the salt
1½ cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
1 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup good Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup seeded black olives, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and coarsely chopped

For frying:
Flour for dredging
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary, salt and pepper and heat one minute, or just until fragrant. Take care that the garlic doesn't brown. Add the chicken stock, half-and half, and milk and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly sprinkle the corn meal into the hot liquid, stirring constantly, taking care to get into the corners of the pan. Return to low heat, stirring constantly, for two or three minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Off the heat, stir in the parmesan, olives and tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.

Line a shallow rectangular pan with parchment so that the paper overhangs the edges to form a handle. (Press parchment completely into corners of the pan.) Add the polenta and smooth the top. Refrigerate until cold and firm.

Lift the chilled polenta out of the pan by the parchment and place on a cutting board. Peel off parchment. Cut the polenta into squares, as you would brownies. Dust each square lightly with flour. Heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan until shimmering and cook the squares in batches until browned and slightly crunchy on the outside and warmed through, adding more oil and butter as needed. Drain on absorbent paper and serve.


Mim said...

This looks good.. somehow I missed it in Ina's shows or cookbooks.
Do you have her latest book.. I am really enjoying it.
I think I'll make this for our sun aft snack fest. I usually make lots of super bowl food, although I don't pay much attention to the game.
Thinking of the two of you in your transitions and your upcoming changes. I've appreciated your posts this wk and your 'carrying on' attitude.

Ralph said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, Mim.

This would make a fantastic superbowl snack. You can cut it into fingers instead of squares so it's easier to pick up. It's so great when you bite down on a piece of tomato or olive. Yum!

Linda - SE PA said...

Lazy Linda would like to know if you can use the prepackaged roll of polenta?

I have to admit to not being a polenta fan but the photo brought inspiration to mind of interesting foods for toppings. Missing NY pizza the way I do does this to a person...

Ralph said...

Linda, lazy Ralph has used the rolled polenta and that's what got me interested in home made. It had potential but I knew it had to be better, otherwise polenta wouldn't have been around for these thousands of years. This is good stuff!

Mim said...

I had written a line about giving the albums to our local thrift(as my husband wanted to do yesterday)..but then deleted the line.. but I suggested we put them in our huge storage area in the basement.
I somehow can't get rid of them!
But do I want to buy that expensive piece of equipment to transfer them to digital.. on that I can't decide! Please keep me posted on what you decided on that.Only one of many of your tasks as you prepare to move!
Oh but I am so excited about your possible move to the inner banks as you call them, and glad the prices aren't as crazy as the OBX.

Ralph said...

Mim, that machine is getting cheaper as the years go by, but the problem I've always had with it is that you're buying this thing for a one-off project, and what do you do with it when you're done. Then a friend said he'd buy one and sell it to me cheap when he was done with it, and then I could sell it and on and on...sort of a joke. I did get the idea of looking for used ones on Ebay or Craingslist, but haven't gotten around to it.

Also, if you google "LP to MP3" you'll find all sorts of freeware that you just download. You use that software with your own of my readers sent me detailed instructions if you're interested....

Mim said...

HI Ralph
I just read your email to Deryl
and he said.. yes when you get a break and feel like sending the instructions to us.
Our turntable died, but we have friends that have one and we'd love to 'save' some of our special lp's to digital. YEAH.
Now what can we do to help you guys out?!

Nan said...

That recipe looks outstanding! MMMMM.

Eclecticity said...

Overnight some to me would ya???? E.

Peewit said...

Okay please explain to us limeys what "half and half" is please? I often see it in recipes so I discount them as I don't know what it is!

BTW I've solved the missing pics problem. I think it's an IE thing. When I deleted my temporary internet files hey presto it reappeared

Ralph said...

Peewit, half-and-half is a combination of milk and cream you can buy here pre-mixed, half each. Sometimes whole cream might be too rich for something, while just whole milk might not be rich enough. Adapt this recipe by using 1 1/2 cups whole milk and a half cup cream.

Weird about the pictures and how deleting temp files makes them come back....wonder what one thing has to do with the other...

Zoey and Me said...

I added this recipe to Super Bowl treats for tomorrow. Last year we spent Super Sunday at the Crown Plaza not far from where Steve used to live but on the beach celebrating my daughters wedding. The guys took turns getting back to the bar to check on a score. It was a wonderful day in Florida, tomorrow will be chilly.

Ralph said...

Z&M, polenta "fingers" or cubes sounds really great as a snack. They should be a hit. Have fun tomorrow. ("Chilly"? I'm building a fire.)

Zoey and Me said...

OK Ralph, Polenta is in the fridge. That didn't take very much time. Once cooled I'll follow the rest of the cooking directions and serve with the pork roast, shrimp, corn on cob, sweet peas and lots of bock beer. Should be a fun afternoon waiting for kick off. Thanks again for the great recipe. Can't wait to taste it. Me

Ralph said...

What a feast. Have fun!

Distributorcap said...

boy that looks good
can you mail me some

Zoey and Me said...

It was quite the party and the Polenta was the biggest hit. All gone. I may even make more today and add hot sauce this time. I copied the recipe for my friends. Thanks again.

Ralph said...

VERY COOL! And hot sauce is a great idea. Now that you have this one down, you can experiment like crazy with other fillings. Thanks for the feedback!