Sunday, May 16, 2010

Basic Baked Polenta (Italian Cornmeal Mush)

Polenta is really plain cornmeal upma without the seasonings! The coarsely ground cornmeal is traditionally cooked on stove-top similar to the Indian Upma. Until corn was brought from the New World, Italians did not have cornmeal and used wheat, farro, chestnuts, etc instead. After the European exploration of the Americas, corn as well as potatoes and tomatoes have become integral parts of not only Italian cuisine but others word-wide.

Baked polenta does away with all the relentless stirring of the traditional method as well as the burnt food if you are not diligent. You will want to make it a part of your repertoire of dishes to enjoy often once you try it. Enjoy creamy soft polenta with savory toppings or cool, cut and savor grilled, baked or broiled. Directions for both the soft type and the slices are given below.

Polenta is coarse cornmeal; although polenta is preferable, regular cornmeal (ground finer) may be used for making polenta. Polenta made with regular cornmeal will be thicker and heavier with a finer texture. Polenta and regular cornmeal (yellow or white) are available in most markets.

This recipe is an adaptation of one found in the Essential Vegetarian Cookbook and makes a nicely seasoned polenta suitable for serving with savory sauces or toppings. The recipe as given below is vegan and gluten free. Two Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese and 2 Tbsp unsalted butter may be stirred in instead of the oil if you like; if you use cheese and butter, reduce the salt in the recipe to 1/2 tsp as the cheese has a high salt content.

6 Servings

Basic Polenta Ingredients:

1 cup Polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 cups water
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 Pinch ground Red Pepper (Cayenne)
1 small bunch Flat Leaf Parsley (about 1/4 cup)
3 or 4 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 sprig Sage
1 or 2 sprigs fresh Marjoram
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Your favorite sauce for serving
a small handful Basil, torn for garnishing

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine salt, red pepper, water and the cornmeal in a 2 or 3 quart (liter) oven proof casserole.

Bake the cornmeal mixture for 1 hour uncovered.

Stir thoroughly; bake for 30 minutes more.

While the polenta is baking, strip the leaves from the herb sprigs; chop them finely.

Remove from the oven, stir in the chopped herbs, freshly ground pepper and oil, cover and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Serve hot with Peperonata, Mushroom Ragout, curries or stews, other favorite sauces or toppings garnished with the basil.

Polenta slices:

Prepare polenta as above but with only 3 cups of water.

Prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lightly oiling it or spraying with a cooking oil spray.

Spread the polenta in the prepared baking sheet and set aside until completely cool.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Cut the polenta into squares, triangles or circles.

Brush the pieces with a little olive oil or melted butter and broil, grill, or brown in a skillet.

Serve hot with your favorite sauces or toppings.

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