You remember a while back when we made that Green Chili and Corn Soup? Well, we had numerous pieces of green chilies left over that we had to use, so, that night, we made up this casserole. We didn’t really follow a recipe, but it’s vaguely, very vaguely, based on the idea of corn tamales; however, we hope it’s easier to make.
The other reason we made this dish was that, in a cookbook we were perusing, the author/chef was enumerating her rules for making a staff meal. One rule that intrigued us was don’t make a fusion of wildly disparate cuisines; the example she gave was to never mix Italian with Mexican food. Ah, a challenge! As an aside, we’re not 100% positive that this was the example, so we won’t specify the book or author
Now, as we all know, Italian cuisine has been incorporating foods from the new world for centuries. Think tomatoes in sauces. Think corn in polenta. Think potatoes in gnocchi. And, while those aren’t limited to Mexican cuisine, they are used heavily in Mexico, too. So, with a little thought, we scratched up a Green Chili and Polenta dish that includes a bit of English food, too. So there!
Polenta: basically it’s corn meal, but not quite. The grind is a bit coarser, and there isn’t as much corn flour mixed in. But, not to worry, cornmeal should work, too. We added the cumin and oregano because they’re both widely used in Mexican cooking, so we thought they’d go with the chilies. The cheese: if we’d planned this advance, we might have picked up some queso blanco, but Cheddar melts nicely, too, plus, we had it on hand. Monterey jack cheese would work well, too. Our green chilies are all over the map in regards to spiciness. Some will blister your tongue (well, ours, at least), and others are slightly hotter than a bell pepper. We have to taste and adjust the amount we use — you should, too.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8×8 inch baking pan. And, while you’re at it, tear off a piece of parchment that will cover the top, and a piece of foil slightly larger. The parchment is optional; we use it between the casserole and foil to prevent the foil from dissolving into the polenta (often foil does that wherever it touches the food, and we don’t want to eat that).
Sauté aromatics. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic, and cumin, and cook, stirring, until they’re fragrant and you can smell the cumin cooking. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes. We don’t have to worry about cooking the onion and garlic all the way through, as they’ll be plenty done at the end.
Sauté polenta. Add the polenta, corn kernels, and oregano. Stir. Keep on cooking and stirring until the polenta starts to stick and forms a film on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. That will be the signal to move on to the next step.
Add water. Pour in the water, but do it while stirring the polenta. If you’re stirring, it shouldn’t matter whether you add lukewarm water (some people will say that it must be boiling, or at least simmering, but lukewarm water worked for us) or boiling water, although the later will make the polenta cook faster.
Cook polenta. Stirring continuously, cook the polenta until it boils. If you wish, you can increase the heat to make it boil faster, but, once it boils, reduce the heat. Don’t stop stirring; well, you can for a few seconds. Continue cooking and stirring until the polenta is thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Layer casserole. Spread the polenta into the prepared pan, place the green chilies on top, then cover with grated cheese. If you’re careful, you can tailor the spiciness level of the casserole in different spots by adjusting the amount of chilies.
Bake. Cover with parchment, followed by foil, sealing everything tightly to hold in the steam — like rice, polenta cooks best with steam. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, removing the foil and parchment during the last 15 minutes, if desired.
Not bad for an Italian-Mexican fusion dish. Maybe we’ll start working on spaghetti tacos next.
We really liked this dish, but, that’s not a surprise, because we love polenta, and having polenta with fresh corn mixed in makes it all the better in our minds. It makes it taste, well, fresher. Oh, that’s pretty obvious, but it does. Every time we have polenta (of any sort) we’re just amazed at how such a humble ingredient, ground corn, can taste so good. It’s the same thing when we have tamales, also made from ground corn; they’re just so tasty. And, we think that Italian and Mexican food happen to have one huge thing in common, allowing for a great fusion: the love of great-tasting food. Four stars, because it always takes a while to cook polenta.