Recipe: Perfectly Palatable Polenta


corn mealToday’s post is a recipe! I chose to share it because it’s so versatile. I absolutely love cooking, especially when it’s something I’ve never attempted before. Part of the thrill for me is just experimenting, but I also enjoy the process of preparation:  from chopping, to cooking, to savoring the fruits of my labor. It soothes me and also feeds (hyuk hyuk) my need to be creative. The inner Jewish mother in me (thanks, family) also loves making sure everyone is fed. Often, I’ll find a recipe and modify it slightly. In this case, I just made it up. It was actually very simple and didn’t require too many ingredients.

I haven’t always enjoyed polenta, primarily because I’ve mostly seen it served rather goopily and under-seasoned. But the other evening, when I happened to taste a truly delicious preparation of polenta, I was forced to change my opinion.

The sea change in my opinion came in the form of an appetizer at one of my favorite local hangouts: the lounge at Popcorn Noir, in Easthampton MA. Popcorn holds a Service Industry Night every Monday, (SIN, for short) and if you purchase one of their creative and delicious cocktails, you can get an appetizer for only $1 more. It’s a pretty amazing deal and I can never resist trying something.

I chose the polenta dish; when it came, I saw a small, crisply fried rectangle sitting atop a delicate green sauce. It was perfectly prepared; the polenta itself was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and the sauce was heavenly. The only thing I could compare it to was the sauce I had with my escargot while visiting Paris–it was garlicky, buttery, and filled with fragrant, minced parsley. The sauce at Popcorn was very similar, but I’m not sure exactly what it contained (magic, probably)!

After eating the appetizer, I was inspired to make my own polenta. To cook the cornmeal, I just followed the recipe on the package, (different than the brand pictured) which was essentially this:

Ingredients: 
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt

1. Put the cornmeal and the cold water in a medium saucepan and whisk until combined.

2. Slowly add the boiling water while stirring constantly.

3. Cook on medium-low heat and keep stirring until desired texture is reached (about 15 minutes).

I knew the polenta was done when it was fairly thick, with about the texture of bread dough, (though not stretchy) and when it began to pull away from the sides of the pan.

You could eat it as-is at this point, or add some Parmesan,  herbs, or some veggies (sauteed mushrooms, anyone?). I’m also going to experiment with making the polenta with other liquids like broth or tomato sauce. Polenta is friendly with all manner of flavors!

I decided to bake mine, because I wanted the crispy texture of the polenta from Popcorn, but I didn’t want to fry it (though I bet it would be delicious with some curry, and then fried in coconut oil, with a yogurt dill sauce…yum!)

To bake:

1. Butter a small pan. My pan was slightly too large, so my baked polenta was not square, but kinda wonky…though I didn’t really care what it looked like.

2. Spread the polenta on the pan with a small metal spatula. If you’ve ever frosted a cake, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Spread until it’s even and about half an inch thick.

3. Melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on the top of the polenta with a pastry brush.

4. Bake the polenta at 400 degrees for like…15 minutes. I kept raising the temperature because it wasn’t browning enough on top and finally just turned the broiler on, but then I almost burned it. So…don’t do that. I’d say just keep it on a high heat or broil it and keep a close watch. I’ll try to figure out the best temperature once I make it again.

5. Once the polenta has cooled, cut it into squares, or triangles, or whatever. Stars, if you’re feeling fancy.

Sauce

I made a pesto-like sauce. It was pretty delicious and really jazzed up the polenta, which was fairly basic.

Ingredients:
1 pepper, roasted
½ onion, roasted
As much garlic as you want, ½ fresh and ½ roasted
½ cup canned tomato or 1 small fresh tomato
1 handful of parsley
1 tbsp of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop the pepper and onion into equal, bite-sized pieces and roast with the whole cloves of garlic. This works best on an oiled pan (see my post about oils!) at like…400. Stir often. It’ll probably take ½ an hour. I was really lazy about mine and didn’t really roast everything as much as I should have, so I don’t really know. Just stir it so it doesn’t burn.

2. Remove the veggies and dump them in a blender. You can wait until they’re cool, or you can just add them when they’re hot if you’re impatient (like me!).

3. Add the raw garlic, (you can never have too much garlic, in my opinion) loosely chopped parsley, olive oil, and tomato. Add salt if you think it needs some, but taste it first!
4. Blend until smooth, or chunky, or whatever texture you prefer. Add more olive oil if you like. This is a very relaxed recipe.

Voila, you’re done!  Serve your polenta pieces with a dollop of sauce on each. It is super delicious, I promise. My dad doesn’t like polenta and he even loved it.

Again, I urge you to experiment! Next time I make it, I think I’ll put some chopped, roasted vegetables (cauliflower?) in the batter before I bake it, and some more herbs and seasonings like curry and parsley. Then I’ll probably make a Greek yogurt sauce. Yeah. That sounds awesome.

Now, go forth and cook things!

Note: Also, if you happen to live nearby, check out Popcorn Noir! They’re both a small theater, (that shows movies for free!!) a full cocktail bar and lounge, and a restaurant. It was started by a husband and wife team; they and everyone else who works there are friendly, talented, accommodating, provide excellent service, and are just generally nice to be around. The SIN night has local, live music, (which my friend actually started!) delicious food, and exceptionally unique cocktails. They also throw parties with dancing, host special private events, have trivia and game nights, and always serve delicious meals for the holidays. I have a lot of wonderful memories from there, and highly recommend it.

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