polenta…..so very simple….water, milk and cream, corn meal….and it is magnificent.
this simple divinity has its roots in Northern Italy. it is very true that a nation of people identify themselves as a distinct culture by the traditional foods they eat. for the Italians, it is often both pasta and pizza that are the cornerstones of what makes Italian food Italian. however, polenta is a humble staple food of Northern Italy that does not get the accolades it deserves, but it certainly should be considered the third cornerstone that completes the Italian food trinity. polenta is so very versatile and deep-deep-deep soul satisfying.
the key ingredient for polenta, yellow cornmeal is a staple in my pantry. it is cheap and it goes a long way, especially when you use it to make polenta. polenta is the foundation on which you can build magnificent meals. you can spoon it into a bowl in its creamy form and top it with thick soups and stews; you can make casseroles with polenta; top with nuts, seeds, dried and fresh fruits and milk for a hearty breakfast; top with pasta sauce and meatballs; replace your baked potato with polenta and top with your favorite baked potato toppings….seriously your options are endless.
i love to make a pot of polenta and make polenta rounds. i get about ten rounds and utilizing them for various meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) they last me about four days. there are so many topping options for polenta rounds; and the rounds work well as an hors d’oeuvres, as lunch (with a side salad), as a side dish or a full meal. last week, i topped a grilled polenta cake with shredded leftover slow cooked pork ribs, black beans, mashed avocado and sour cream. one polenta cake topped with all of that goodness was enough for each person at my dinner table. you can top polenta rounds with fresh fruit, yogurt and honey for breakfast or top with a crispy fried egg, crumbled sausage and a drizzle of hot sauce for breakfast; and good god, a poached egg over crispy polenta….there are no words.
polenta is the foundation for whatever food masterpiece you wish to create.
the kind of pot you use for cooking polenta makes a huge difference. to prevent the polenta from sticking and scorching, make sure you use a heavy pot. unless you have a copper polenta pot, enameled cast iron is the best choice when making polenta.
this is one of my favorite polenta round recipes. i will serve it as a side dish or as an hors d’oeuvre. the ingredients are simple and it is so easy to make. the key with polenta is to add the cornmeal slowly, otherwise you will have very lumpy polenta. and, while i do not mind lumps when i am using my polenta as a base for stew or soups (i can’t help myself, sometimes i just love biting into a thick polenta jewel), for the rounds, you want the polenta to be smooth. you can make the polenta rounds and the onions up to two days ahead. just reheat the onions and pan grill the polenta rounds when ready to serve. if you can, purchase local cheese and local honey; it gives such a snap of freshness.
Grilled Polenta Cakes with Caramelized Red Onions and Goat Cheese
1 cup of whole milk 1 cup of heavy cream 2 cups of water 1 teaspoon of kosher salt 1 cup of polenta 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled honey to drizzle
prepare a 9×13 pan for the polenta by coating it with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
in a large pot, bring the water, milk, heavy cream, and salt to a boil. slowly whisk in the polenta. turn the heat to low, and continue whisking for 5 minutes, or until polenta is smooth and creamy. spread the polenta in a 9×13 baking dish, and set aside to cool.
while the polenta is setting, add the butter and olive oil to a cast iron pan (or other heavy bottomed pan) and set the heat to medium-low heat. add the sliced onions and a sprinkle of kosher salt. cook, stirring occasionally until soft and caramelized- about 25-30 minutes.
Grilled Polenta Cakes
put the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet, set over medium heat. using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut circles out of the firm polenta, and place in the heated skillet. cook until slightly browned and crusty on one side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other sides another two minutes.
to assemble the polenta cakes, place grilled polenta cakes on plates, add one tablespoon of caramelized red onions to each cake, top each with about one teaspoon of crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle with honey.