“Polenta? Oh, you mean Italian grits.”
A number of years ago I came upon a recipe for a most luscious and creamy polenta. That recipe was the real deal—calling for a high water to polenta ratio and taking about an hour to cook.This polenta was far removed from its origins as daily gruel. Fittingly, I purchased imported polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal) from Italy and stored it in the refrigerator for the twice each year that I dedicated the time and energy to make it. The recipe’s major drawback was the required constant attention and stirring for 5 out of every 15-20 minutes.
What a difference an oven makes
Just a couple of weeks ago, my polenta-making took an amazing turn toward the simple and easy. I came across a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman for cooking polenta in the oven. Since that fateful day, polenta has graced our table for dinner, lunch, brunch and breakfast.
Baking polenta in the oven produces a soft, creamy, golden polenta in 60-70 carefree minutes. There is nothing to do until the last 10-20 minutes and then only for a minute or two.
Serve it crisp, serve it creamy
The ingredients are mixed together and baked. During the last 20 minutes you stir in a small amount of butter and bake another 10 minutes. Then, just before serving, you stir in additional enrichments of choice such as fresh herbs or pesto, fresh or frozen (defrosted) corn, soft or grated cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, etcetera.
Should you decide not to eat the polenta when soft and creamy, just pour it hot onto a lined baking pan using a spatula to spread it evenly. Let it cool until firm. Cut it into triangles or rectangles or rounds and sauté it in olive oil or place it on the grill.
Slow Food Comfort
Creamy, golden polenta swirled with Roasted Broccoli Pesto and topped with a Poached Egg is our new favorite combination. Even a friend visiting from South Carolina this past week, who’s been eating grits since childhood, greatly enjoyed this comforting and delicious repast.
How to Poach an Egg
If you’re feeling a little uncertain about poaching an egg, try this very easy technique for poaching eggs from Alton Brown of Iron Chef America fame. I will say though, that his timing was a little long for runny poached eggs–see photo below. For four eggs, the yolks were perfect after 5 minutes.
Roasted Broccoli Pesto makes for a very delicious polenta. Without pesto stir in fresh herbs such as chives, basil and flat-leaf parsley. Feel free to substitute grated Parmesan or other cheese for the soft goat cheese.
This hands-off technique for baking polenta in the oven is adapted/inspired from Martha Rose Shulman.
Makes 4-6 servings
1 cup organic polenta
4 ½ cups water
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 rounded half cup fresh or frozen corn
2 ½ tablespoons goat cheese
¼ cup Roasted Broccoli Pesto
OR ¼ cup or more sliced and chopped herbs such as chives, basil and flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the polenta, water and salt in a 2-quart baking dish. Put the uncovered dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and use a rubber spatula to stir in the butter. When melted, return the pan to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and use a rubber spatula to stir the polenta once again. Taste a small amount of the polenta.
- If the grains are soft, stir the corn and cheese into the polenta.
- If the polenta grains are not quite soft, return the polenta to the oven to cook another 10 minutes. Then stir in the corn and cheese.
Place a portion of polenta on a plate, top with additional pesto and a poached egg or two. Serve immediately.
Polenta can also be poured out onto a lightly-oiled baking pan and chilled. When firm, cut it into triangles, rectangles or rounds for sautéing or grilling.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe without images