One of our new favorite side dishes is polenta. For awhile we bought pre-made polenta from either the health food store or from Trader Joes. That can be a bit pricey and now that we know how easy it is to make HOMEMADE polenta, we’ll never go back to store-bought polenta. This recipe rocks!
Polenta is made from ground corn and for all you southerners might look suspiciously like grits. But polenta is NOT GRITS. Okay, for all practical purposes, polenta and grits are both made from coarsely ground corn. Southern grits are best made with “dent” corn while traditional, Italian polenta is made from “flint” corn. What we’re talking about today is polenta, not grits (and definitely NOT hominy grits!)
Polenta is a great side dish that can take on a host of interesting flavors depending on what you add to it. It also goes well with some really high-end foods. Really nice grilled seafood can be staged on top of a cake of polenta, for instance. It’s a very versatile food. And that part about adding different ingredients to the polenta? That’s the part we like the best because we are all about experimenting in the kitchen!
- 1 large red onion, diced finely and sauteed in olive oil
- 2 T. minced garlic, sauteed with the onion
- 2 quarts chicken stock (true confessions: we used homemade pork stock and it was delish!)
- 2 t. salt
- 2 c. coarsely ground polenta or corn grits
- 4 T. butter
- 1/2 t. coarsely ground black pepper (oops, forgot that tonight!)
- 4 ounces grated cheese (parmesan was recommended but we used shredded Gouda and WOW!)
Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil in a deep, heavy pot until both are transparent. Add the chicken stock and turn the burner to high. Once the stock is boiling away, whisk the ground cornmeal into the boiling pot very, very gradually. Stir constantly so as to avoid lumps. After all the cornmeal is whisked in, cover the pot and put it into the oven at 350°. Stir every ten minutes or so to prevent lumps from forming. Once the polenta starts to get creamy, after 35-40 minutes, take it out of the oven.
Now is the time to add the butter, salt, and pepper. After those are stirred in, add the cheese and whatever other herbs, spices, etc. that you want. We’re planning to experiment with sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, different fresh herbs, different types of cheeses, etc.
You can serve the polenta as it is or you can take this dish to another level of creativity. Line some loaf pans with parchment or foil and pour the hot polenta into the pans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Once the polenta is completely cooled, slice it like you might slice a meat loaf. Or pour the polenta into a jelly roll pan and cool. You can use cookie cutters to cut different shapes if want.
You can serve this polenta at room temperature or you can saute it lightly in a skillet, grill it, or broil it. Brushing the sides with a little olive oil keeps it from sticking. You can also top it with cheese at this point if you opt not to include the cheese earlier.
Important note: to keep this dish vegetarian, simply use a hearty vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.
We have really gotten hooked on polenta and plan to play around with a lot more ideas. My husband did a lot of the research on this one and asked me to link to two of the recipes that really inspired him:
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