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Firm Polenta Cut-Outs
A delicious side dish.

Ingredients:
2 cups water
1 quart milk
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably coarse-ground)

Directions:
1. Bring the water, milk, and coarse salt to a boil in a large saucepan and reduce the heat to moderate so that the liquid comes to a simmer.
2. Pour in the cornmeal by the handful in a thin stream very slowly, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps. After the cornmeal is whisked in, keep the mixture at a bare simmer and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook the polenta, stirring and crushing any lumps that might form against the side of the pan, for 30 minutes. (As it cooks the polenta will thicken considerably.)
3. Quickly turn the polenta into an oiled 13- by 9-inch pan or onto a baking sheet, depending on the desired thickness. Smooth out the polenta. Refrigerate for 24 hours, if possible. Cut the polenta into slices or pieces of any shape you desire (such as triangles, stars, rectangles, circles, or squares). The cut-outs can then be reheated by grilling, broiling, or baking (brush with olive oil first for any of these methods). Or you may sauté the cut-outs in olive oil or butter.

By cooking polenta longer, you will achieve a firmer mass - which can then be spread out, cooled, and cut into shapes that have a springy, resilient texture. There is a classic Northern Italian board, called a tagliere, on which the polenta is spread. But you can do it on any flat surface, or in a baking dish. The key question is: what thickness do you like in the finished product? We're partial to polenta cut-outs that are about 1/2 inch thick, so we spread our just - cooked polenta out into a large, smooth rectangle that's 1/2 inch thick. The polenta shapes may be cut out after a half hour of cooling, but the texture's much better if the slab is refrigerated for 24 hours.