19 Apr Special of the Day: Presenting…Polenta! Your Perfect Pairing for Effortless Al Fresco Dining this Spring
Warmer temperatures and longer days of spring mean it’s high time to get excited about effortless al fresco entertaining~ made even easier with this week’s Special of the Day column, now presenting two palatable polenta recipes for you to pair with whatever you plan to throw on the barbie.
Polenta, which refers to the coarsely ground corn product as well as the porridge-type dish made from the grain, is native to Italy. Polenta is most often cooked with stock, water or milk and seasoned with herbs and cheese, served hot and creamy or cooked, cooled, sliced, sautéed and served warm with a variety of savory toppings.
While prepared polenta in a tube can be purchased in a pinch, and instant polenta is also available, best results are achieved from buying the ground polenta (available at 2Js in bulk foods) and making it from scratch.
As luck would have it, I have had a bit of travel on my spring schedule, during which I enjoyed two very different and delectable preparations of polenta.
First stop: Stoneburner in Ballard, Washington featuring Polenta Cakes topped with poached
eggs, grilled baby broccoli and pecorino making for a beautiful brunch entrée, bursting with fresh fabulous flavors. Chef/Owner Jason Stoneburner kindly shared his Polenta Cake recipe, and I added some notes on assembling them with poached eggs, pesto, baby broccoli and parmesan (similar to how they were served there), but these polenta planks would be great topped with grilled shrimp or pork or just about anything!
Followed by: TEN Restaurant in the Northern Hotel in Billings, Montana serving the velvety smooth and aromatic Rosemary Polenta which would be a proud accompaniment to almost any braised meat. Chef Tim Freeman likes to serve it with lamb at TEN, where they pride themselves on using all non GMO items in their cooking including as many local ingredients as they can find in Montana~ such as vegetables, farm fresh eggs and herbs from local suppliers.
Polenta is a super star side dish for home cooks to add to their recipe repertoire because it is very versatile. “You can add loads of different cheeses, herbs, and flavoring to it to achieve the desired results,” Freeman said, “Plus, you look like a seasoned chef making a restaurant quality side dish with very little work involved.”
Tricks of the trade regarding making polenta include making sure you are not using instant polenta and not skimping on the milk, Freeman said, which makes the polenta creamy. Frequent stirring is essential to prevent lumps and finally, “Season, season, season!”
If you can boil water, you can make polenta, it’s basically just a bit of patient stirring. Do plan ahead so your timing works out right~ if you are making the polenta cakes they need to cool in the refrigerator for at least four hours before cutting and sautéing them (so they make for a great do-ahead dish) while you’ll want to prepare the Rosemary Polenta just before serving as it will only hold for a short time.
With genuine gratitude to Jason Stoneburner for his Polenta Cake recipe and Tim Freeman for his Rosemary Polenta recipe, I give you this week’s Special of the Day: Presenting… Polenta! Enjoy!
Recipe by Jason Stoneburner
Chef/Owner Stoneburner Restaurant
Chef’s note: I use gram measurements for all my recipes for efficiency and scalability.
*Required equipment: food scale.
250 grams Italian yellow polenta
1.75 liters of water
50 grams of butter
17 grams of salt
8 turns of pepper mill
175 grams of ricotta
Bring the water and salt up to a boil. Whisk in polenta and cook on low heat for 5 to 8 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Whisk in the butter, cheese and pepper. Pour the mixture into a cake pan and let cool in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. Remove and cut into squares and pat dry. In a cast iron or sauté pan add 1/4″ oil to medium heat and fry on both sides until golden brown. Or you can bake them in the oven at 350 with your favorite tomato sauce and mozzarella until bubbly.
To assemble Polenta Cakes:
(To serve two)
½ cup prepared pesto
4 baby broccoli stalks, blanched briefly and then lightly sautéed in butter
4 poached eggs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Warm pesto in microwave.
Divide among two serving plates.
Top with warm sautéed polenta cakes.
Top polenta cake with baby broccoli stalks and poached eggs.
Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Recipe by Tim Freeman, Executive Chef, TEN Restaurant
Ingredients- serves 4 4 cups water, plus more as needed 4 cups milk, plus more as needed 3 tablespoons butter
2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary 2 teaspoons salt 2 cups polenta- note instant polenta will not give the same results 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Directions In a large saucepan, bring the water, milk, rosemary, and butter to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the water and whisk in the polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps. Simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered and stirring every 10 minutes, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy. Add the Parmesan. Check for seasoning and adjust consistency by adding milk to the polenta. Polenta may be made up to 20 minutes ahead of time and kept covered until ready to serve.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.