Grilled Basil Polenta with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce

Grilled Basil Polenta with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce
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polenta and roasted red pepper cream sauce
Everything is better with cream!

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.

Grilled Basil Polenta with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce

Grilled Basil Polenta with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce


    For the polenta
  • 1 cup coarse yellow corn meal
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs fresh basil, finely shredded
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For the cream sauce
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup roasted sweet red peppers, diced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Abbreviated Instructions

For polenta

Butter an 8x8-inch baking pan.

In a large heavy-bottomed sauce pan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to low.

While whisking, gradually add corn meal to boiling water.

Whisk for 5 minutes, then switch to a wooden spoon.

Stir until polenta is stiff enough to hold the spoon upright and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 45-55 minutes.

Stir in salt, pepper, butter, basil, and Parmesan cheese.

Scrape into buttered pan and refrigerate until firm, about 60 minutes.

Cut polenta into 4 squares and grill over high heat for 3-5 minutes on a side. If needed, keep warm in a 200°F oven while you finish the sauce.

For the sauce

In small skillet over low heat, melt butter and combine with flour to make a roux.

Cook roux over low heat for approximately 10 minutes until a light brown.

Add red peppers and cream. Stir until thickened, then drizzle over grilled polenta squares.

Ingredient discussion:

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.

making polenta
We know, a blurry photo, but you try whisking, pouring, photographing, and lowering the heat all at the same time.

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.

stirring polenta
Here’s where the spoon hits the pan. Stir. Stir. Stir. And stir. If it’s any consolation, very few arms have fallen off while making polenta.

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.

adding basil, cheese, and butter to polenta
Fresh basil goes a long way toward making this extra tasty.

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.

cooling polenta
The polenta starts to thicken as soon as it cools, so you won’t get a smooth surface, but the taste will be the same.

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.

grilling polenta
We tried to get each square of polenta grilled like the one in the upper left. Charring adds flavor!

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.

cream sauce
The cream sauce is pretty easy; just a light roux with cream and roasted red peppers.

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.

polenta and roasted red pepper cream sauce
We think the polenta looks best when it’s slightly offset when stacked. Add the delicious cream sauce to finish.

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.

Worth the trouble?

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