Do you ever have recipes that sit around for a long time while you search out and find just the right ingredients? That’s the case with this recipe. It’s not as if it’s a difficult recipe; in fact, it’s really easy, but we just couldn’t find one of the key ingredients: semolina. We looked in all the likely places, but no semolina flour. We finally gave up. But, that didn’t stop us; oh, no, we scratched our way forward and came up with the following.
When we first saw this recipe in Pasta, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli, well over a year ago, we knew we wanted to try it. It was simple — sometimes the simple recipes are the best — but it called for semolina flour, which, for some reason, we couldn’t find (sure, we could have looked on-line, but we didn’t; we’ve since found it, so we’ll have to try this again). So, we figured that we’d make the same recipe using polenta. Nearly the same recipe; we’ve added a little twist, but we’ll point that out.
For polenta, we do not mean the stuff that comes in those “chubs” that look somewhat like sausage; we mean the real deal, coarsely- ground corn meal. You could use regular corn meal, but we really think you’ll be much happier if you find real polenta. The grains are larger, giving the polenta a better texture and taste (more corny — the good kind of corny, not like a bad movie). Note that you’re adding salt, so you shouldn’t have a helper from the dairy add salt for you, too. Use unsalted butter. Real Parmesan is unbelievably better than the sawdust in the green can, so seek it out. It’s pricey, but worth it. Speaking of worth it, try free-range eggs once and you’ll seek them out from then on; they taste so much better, it’s worth the extra time and money to use them. And, finally, adding the sage is our twist. The original recipe didn’t call for it.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. When the polenta starts to thicken, it can happen fast, so take a few minutes to get your ingredients prepped. Measure out and grate the cheese. Separate the egg (you can use the egg white to make pasta).
Heat milk. Put the milk in a saucepan, add the salt, nutmeg, and butter, and place over medium heat. Continue heating, stirring, until butter is melted and the milk starts to get a bit foamy.
Add polenta. This is the only tricky part of this recipe, and it’s not that tricky. While stirring the milk rapidly, slowly add polenta. If you add it too fast, it’ll form lumps, and no one likes lumps in their food.
Cook polenta. Continue stirring and cooking the mixture until it’s very thick. Thick enough that a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan forms a furrow that doesn’t fill back in. Remove from heat.
Add yolk and cheese. Or cheese and yolk, your choice. Either way, stir them both into the polenta. As an aside, you’ve just made a better version of the stuff they sell in “chubs” as “polenta.”
Shape. There are multiple ways you can shape this polenta. You can pour it out into a lightly- greased jelly roll pan and spread it about 1/2 inch thick, then cut into circles (or triangles, your choice)after chilling, or you can do as we did and press spoonfuls of the polenta into a mini-muffin tin.
Chill. Place the polenta in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until it firms up. Once it’s firm, you can cut it, or just pop it out of the muffin tin.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter an 8×8-inch baking pan.
Arrange. Place the polenta disks in a nice pattern in the baking pan, overlapping slightly if needed.
Make sage butter. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the sage leaves and cook until the butter clarifies and the mixture smells fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Coat polenta. Pour the butter over the polenta disks, then add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top. It’s now ready for the oven.
Bake. Bake the polenta until the cheese melts and is begining to brown and everything is heated thoroughly, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately, topped with a bit more Parmesan, if desired (we always desire Parmesan)
This is such a simple dish to put together and it’s a nice introduction to polenta if you’ve never had it before. It’s easier to make than some polenta recipes (some take 45-60 minutes of stirring), and it makes nice polenta gnocchi (which means knuckle, by the way) with a lot of flavor. We really liked the addition of the sage, and felt that we could have added even a bit more — our sage plants are still pretty small, so we didn’t want to pluck all their leaves — so keep that in mind when you scratch it up. We might also consider this a nice dish to make ahead of time, perhaps perfect for a potluck. Fives.