A trio of polenta recipes
- Credit: Archant
Kerstin uses the Italian corn porridge to make chips and dips, an alternative to pizza and a delicious lemon and rosemary cake
During lockdown, I foraged those dusty packets at the back of the cupboard, turfing up a posh cotton mini ‘sack’ of polenta.
Polenta is an Italian speciality, a gluten-free corn alternative to wheat-based pizza and pasta. It is essentially a porridge.
Corn arrived in Venice from America in the mid 17th century. Like many other famous ‘on brand’ Italian foods, such as tomatoes and pasta, maize is in fact a relatively recent addition to their cuisine.
Prior to that, polenta existed but was made with pulses, spelt, buckwheat, barley or chestnut.
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That said, polenta is not an easy food to cook and requires a skilful hand with seasoning.
There are two kinds of corn polenta: quick cook and slow cook. The former takes a matter of minutes but has even less intrinsic flavour; the proper stuff takes a good 45 minutes constant stirring at the stove.
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What is the difference between quick cook and slow cook and is it worth the effort? The slow-cook is a little more ‘corny’, a little grittier and stays soft for longer.
It can be served hot and soft but sets stiff like a cake when cold. Polenta can also be used to make sweet desserts. Here are three recipes using all these techniques.
Polenta with toppings
Polenta served immediately is a porridge and the set can be adjusted according to the amount of liquid added while cooking. I usually do a ratio 1: 3 polenta to water. Once cooked, it is traditionally poured onto a wooden board. You can add different toppings.
For the polenta:
500 g fine polenta
2.25 litres water (for quick cook use only 1.5 litres
1 tbsp sea salt
50 ml olive oil
Toppings, choose between the following:
1 jar artichokes in oil
400 ml ‘napoletana’ tomato sauce with garlic
4 tbsp fried onions in olive oil
2 thinly sliced aubergines, grilled with olive oil
3 tbsps pesto sauce
For mushrooms in cream sauce:
250g mushrooms of your choice
300ml single cream (can use cashew cream if vegan)
clove garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
For the polenta:
Boil the water in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan.
Add the salt and the polenta.
Keep stirring until it cooks which can be 45 minutes to 90 minutes for slow-cook and a couple of minutes for quick cook.
Spoon it onto a wooden board and spread it out. Drizzle with olive oil and add the warmed toppings in stripes on top. Serve by giving everyone a spoon to help themselves.
Polenta chips with blue cheese dip
To make the polenta chips:
Leftover cold polenta
100g dry polenta
sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
For the blue cheese dip:
100g blue cheese
150ml sour cream or Greek yoghurt
1/2 lemon, juice of
1 tsp sea salt
To bake the polenta chips:
Leave the leftovers of the polenta to form a solid cake. Cut into slices, then chips.
Prepare an oiled baking tray and preheat the oven to 180C.
Sprinkle the dry polenta on to a plate and dip in each ‘chip’ coating each side.
Place the polenta chips in a single layer in the baking tray.
Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary.
Bake for one hour. When cooked, remove and serve with the dip.
To make the blue cheese dip
Crumble the blue cheese into the cream or yoghurt and blend.
Add the salt and lemon juice.
Lemon and Rosemary Polenta Cake
For the cake:
175g fine polenta
55g plain flour (replace with almond flour for gluten-free)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
5 tbsp Greek style natural yoghurt
5 tbsp walnut or sunflower oil
2 juice and zest of lemons
2 tbsps runny honey
1/2 tsp glycerine
2 egg whites
200g caster sugar
100g demerara sugar
Butter, for greasing
For the sugar syrup:
150 ml water
150g caster sugar
1 zest and juice of lemon
4 tbsp honey
Sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
For the cake:
Grease the loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180C
Sift the polenta, flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the eggs, the egg whites, the sugars until creamy then beat in the yoghurt.
Fold in the dry ingredients and pour the mixture into the loaf tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until springy to the touch. Leave cake to cool.
To make the sugar syrup:
Boil the water, sugar, lemon zest and juice, honey and rosemary together in a pan, then simmer for about 10 minutes.
Pour the syrup over the cake, letting it absorb the syrup. This cake is more delicious the day after.