A trio of polenta recipes

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings - Credit: Archant

Kerstin uses the Italian corn porridge to make chips and dips, an alternative to pizza and a delicious lemon and rosemary cake

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings - Credit: Archant

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.

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings

Polenta cake, chips and polenta with toppings - Credit: Archant

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 eggs

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.