Thursday, April 28, 2011

Savory Polenta

One of my favorite childhood meals is mush -- polenta that has been chilled, fried, then served with powdered sugar and syrup. My dad would make it Saturday night, pour it into two loaf pans, then fry it up Sunday morning before church. My parents live 2,200 miles away, but whenever I visit, Dad pulls out a loaf pan and makes it. It's the thoughtful little things like that that really show me that my parents love me ... they remember that I love mush and hate stroganoff.
I've never made mush by myself. Somehow, I'm afraid I won't get it right. (Dad just eyeballs the measurements, which is how I do most of my cooking ... except for mush. I want the exact quantities.) But, thanks to some coaching from Dad and the following recipe from Alton Brown, that fear is now behind me. I tried this recipe a few weeks ago and wow, it was incredible! It's not the kind to top with powdered sugar and syrup, but with a few tweaks and omissions, it could be. This recipe can be served creamy or fried.

Savory Polenta

2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In large, oven-safe saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and salt, then sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Reduce heat to low, add garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure the garlic does not burn!
3. Turn heat to high, add chicken stock and bring to boil. Gradually add cornmeal while constantly whisking. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from oven and add butter, salt and pepper. Gradually add in the Parmesan.
4. Serve immediately. Or, pour the polenta into a 9x13 cake pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
5. Once set, turn the polenta onto a cutting board. Cut into squares, triangles or circles, Brush each side with olive oil and saute in nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

Substitution Suggestions: I threw in some sun-dried tomatoes (dried, not packed in oil) and it was a great addition. This could also work well with a variety of other cheeses. The original recipe called for red onion, but I prefer Vidalias.
I used a mixture of polenta and cornmeal. Either one will work.
I'm curious what would happen if I used milk/cream instead of part of the stock. I may have to try that at some point.

Lessons Learned: I loved cooking this in the oven. I've stirred the cornmeal mush for my dad in the past and it spits. This eliminates the need to dodge bits of boiling cornmeal shooting you in the eye or arm or hand or whatever else it takes offense to. And, it was incredibly creamy and smooth when I pulled it out. Not a lump in sight! (I wish I could say the same thing about my waistline!)

No comments: