We don’t have polenta often. It’s not that we don’t like it; we do. If you make this, you’ll find out the reason we don’t have polenta often. It’s all the stirring. Not a lot of stirring like making risotto. We can do that amount of stirring standing on one foot. We’re talking a, whole, lot, of, stirring. Stirring something thick and porridge-like. But, oh, so tasty. So we make it. Just not very often.
So, a batch of scratched polenta is really appropriate for a special dinner, and we tend to go all-out in what we make. Today’s dish is a good example. We could have had just basic polenta, or polenta that was crisp-fried, but we decided that we’d go with grilled polenta. We have some basil growing, so, grilled basil polenta. Then, we had a bit of cream left over, so that meant a cream sauce. What kind? Originally, we though about basil cream sauce, but basil was going into the polenta itself, so that was out. How about something with a nice color? Well, we have a jar of roasted sweet red peppers. Perfect.
Now, if you’re wondering why we don’t just buy a chub of polenta and go with that, we’ll tell you. We’ve tried it. It’s okay, but not great. Polenta made from scratch is just better, plus it’s far more versatile.
Our recipe for the polenta pretty much follows the one found in The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook. The sauce, however, is all our invention.
Makes four 4×4-inch squares.
Yep, polenta is nothing but corn meal cooked in boiling water. That’s it. We’ve read that the best corn meal for making polenta is coarse stone-ground corn meal. We aren’t sure, but we’re willing to try it the next time we make it. Don’t worry if you only have plain corn meal; it’ll work, too. Parmesan cheese comes from Italy, in big wheels, and not in little green cans. Basil: use fresh. If you’re making the polenta, go all out. Heavy cream: use the kind that has cream as the only ingredient. If you wanted anything else, you’d probably buy something else.
Procedure in detail:
For the polenta.
Get a book. First up, be aware that you’re going to be stirring for a while, so find a book that you like and have it near the stove. Once you have your book handy, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
Add cornmeal. When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and slowly add the cornmeal, whisking continuously. Really, use a whisk so you don’t get any lumps. Then whisk for 5 minutes while the cornmeal mush boils.
Stir and read. Switch to a wooden spoon and stand there stirring and reading. Do this for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the polenta becomes thick enough to hold the spoon upright. Really. It will also start to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Add spices. Once the polenta has thickened, add the salt, pepper, butter, Parmesan, and the fresh basil. Stir until the butter and cheese melt and are mixed in.
Pour into pan. Scrape the polenta from the saucepan into the 8×8 buttered baking dish. Spread it around as best you can; you’ll end up with a piece of polenta that’s about an inch thick.
Refrigerate. Slide it into the refrigerator to chill and set, about an hour.
Grill. Slice the polenta into four 4×4 inch squares and grill over a hot fire for 3 to 5 minutes on a side, or until charred nicely. Remove and keep warm in a 200°F oven, if necessary.
For the sauce.
Make a roux. In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook the roux until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Add cream and peppers. Add the diced red peppers and cream and stir until combined and thickened, about 3 minutes.
Season. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve. Stack grilled polenta cakes on plate and drizzle with red pepper cream sauce.
This turned out great! Every time we have polenta, we are just amazed at what a tasty meal you can make from basically cornmeal and water! Who would guess? We’ll admit that it was time-consuming to make, but none of it was difficult. It was just a lot of stirring, and that’s mindless enough that you can read while you stir. So, it’s not that big of a deal. The sauce, too, was really good; the cream and red peppers were just the right touch for polenta — full of flavor and creaminess — but not so rich that it overwhelmed the mild flavor of the polenta. As far as flavor goes, this was definitely a five-star meal, but, with all the time spent making it, we’re going to give it four.