Creamy or Toasty Polenta

Polenta is always something I forget about. Being gluten-free, I don’t know why I never think of it as an easy alternative to pasta or cous cous. But in both Dubrovnik and Montalcino, I had the chance to rediscover the taste and texture of it. Who knew it was such a versatile ingredient with several different variations?

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My first polenta dish was in Dubrovnik, Croatia at a restaurant called Pantarul. I have such fond memories of this lovely place and the spectacular meal we had there: monkfish over mascarpone polenta. The texture was incredibly creamy and warm like fresh comfort food. I vowed to learn to make this at home and recreate our time on the Adriatic Sea.

Well, some time went by, as it usually does, and I have delayed playing in the kitchen until now. While we were in Montalcino, Tuscany, I had another version of polenta. It was in little cakes under braised wild boar. The texture was still pretty creamy; almost like a flan. I wasn’t as much of a fan of this version because it tasted almost like a corn jello, but it is a popular way to prepare it.

In doing some research, I came across some recipes for toasted or crispy polenta that relieved me from making a gelatinous version. Thus, the experiment was born.

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What is polenta and where did it come from? Polenta actually originated in Central Europe (not Mexico or South America, like I had thought growing up in Texas). It is the process of boiling cornmeal into a porridge-like mixture. This was a very common dish in Roman times because the ingredients were incredibly cheap, and the dish can be very filling.

Today, polenta has many different variations: creamy, baked, grilled, and fried. It can be eaten immediately, served at room temperature, or frozen to later use.

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Creamy Mascarpone Polenta
serves 6-8

500 ml unsweetened almond milk*
500 ml chicken stock**
40g unsalted butter
100g coarse ground polenta***
250g mascarpone
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

2015-09-16 11.55.27*I used unsweetened almond milk for the nutty flavor. Feel free to use regular milk as a substitute.
** Making chicken stock at home is easy. Pop some veggies (ends, scraps, etc.) and bones in a slow cooker and cover with water for at least 10 hours on low.
***You can find all kinds of polenta on the market. For this recipe, I used quick cooking polenta. If you find a course ground polenta on the shelves, you may need to cook it for 20-30 minutes instead of the quick way detailed below.

1) In a large sauce pan, bring the milk and chicken stock to a boil. 2015-09-16 12.23.17
2) Once it’s boiling, add salt and pepper. Whisk together. Measure out the polenta and slowly pour in, whisking continuously. It will thicken quickly, so you must continuously whisk.
3) Add the butter when it’s incorporated. The mixture should be like porridge. Mix in the mascarpone. Once that is completely mixed in, remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
4) Serve immediately.

Note: This recipe is very high in calories, in particular, fat. This, of course, can be lightened with lowering the mascarpone or substituting with cashew cream.

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Crispy Polenta Cakes
adapted from My Recipes
serves 8

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750 ml chicken stock
100g coarse polenta
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese

1) In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. When the broth is at a rolling boil, slowly pour in the polenta and whisk thoroughly.
2) If using an instant polenta, stir frequently for five minutes. If you’re using a regular polenta, let it cook for about 20
minutes. 2015-09-16 15.55.41
3) When it becomes thick, add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. This creates a silky texture to the pudding.
4) In an 8 inch Pyrex pan, grease the edges and pour the mixture in. Smooth it with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until firm.
5) When it’s ready, invert the mixture onto parchment paper and cut into 8 triangles.
6) In a skillet, heat the leftover tablespoon of butter. When the skillet is hot, place four triangles down and let it fry for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides.
7) Place on a paper towel to drain the extra butter and serve hot. These also freeze beautifully.

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Note: This is a much healthier alternative to the high fat version above.
Per cake: 113 calories, 5g fat (2.1g saturated fat), 15.5g carb, 1.7g protein.

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How do you cook your polenta? What are your favorite gluten-free grains and cakes? Leave a comment!

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