12 June 2012

3 Polentas, 1 Girl

Ok so the title was a bit of a stretch.

Polenta intrigues me. I want to know what makes polenta tick, you know? You can make it do all kinds of crazy things, I wish I were more scientifically minded so I could explain the workings of polenta but I cant. Something, something, gelatisation of starch, something. Fun fact about polenta: Its gluten free! 
Polenta has long been described as peasant food, which works for me seeing as its 2 days until pay day, and seeing as I have never had a flavoursome polenta dish (there is an exception, we will get to that) I decided to put my mind to creating a tasty polenta dish. Yes - tasty, MI4 anybody?? 

SO on this great experiment of mine, I decided to do 1 polenta, 3 ways. My first step was to inject the base of the meal with as much flavour as possible, once I had mastered that it was a matter of decided what texture I wanted/how I would present it. 
One thing to remember is to constantly taste the mixture as you cook, people sometimes fall into a false sense of security - especially when following recipes, were they follow blindly thinking 'this will taste good in the end', I feel like this meal especially will end up quite bland if you don't incorporate your seasoning's early, and then you end up with bland polenta that you just cant revive by pouring on salt & pepper whilst eating!
The base is as follows;

Polenta (Duh!) - I used approx a cup
Chicken Stock (We use Massel - no chickens harmed :) )
2 Onions, sliced
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 Bunch Fresh Basil, roughly chopped
Handful of Kalamata Olives, sliced
Handful of Sundried Tomato, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp Nooch
4 Mushrooms, sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
Olive Oil
Salt (LOTS OF SALT) and Pepper.

Heat olive oil in pot. Throw in onions and stir on medium heat until soft. Add sugar, and cover,  stirring every 10 minutes or so until caramelised. 
In fry pan heat some more oil, add garlic & mushroom and cook until soft. 
Bring 3 cups of water + appropriate amount of stock to the boil. Add polenta - whisking in, then start stirring! Don't stop. Awesome exercise for those 'tuck shop lady arms' when it thickens up. This will all happen pretty fast. Continue stirring until you can stand your spoon in it. Take off the heat.
Combine polenta, caramelised onion, basil, olives, sundried tomatoes, nooch, garlic & mushroom, and oregano. Season to taste - this is where your own judgement needs to come in, more garlic? More salt? Tinker.

From here I tried 3 different ways of serving this.

In a casserole dish I did a layer about 1cm thick, topped with salt & pepper. This was also cooked in the oven, approx 20 mins.

In a deep casserole dish I thickly spread the polenta, topped with sliced tomato, 'mozzarella', salt, pepper & more oreganon, I cooked this in a preheated oven around 20mins.

In a cookie tray, I did a layer approximately the same thickness. This one I put in fridge to chill. After about 15mins I removed from the fridge, cut into triangles and fried.

The first polenta was probably the most boring, kind of an 'original'. Thin enough to pick up a slab by hand but not very stable. 

The tomato topped deep dish was tasty. I wasn't overly enthusiastic about it at first just because, well it looked crap. But I enjoyed the creamy texture and little add ons of tomato and cheese. Tasty.

The chilled then fried polenta was pretty good, because it had time to set before being cooked it was more stable, easy to cut and serve, and pick up if you are so inclined. It went well with a dolop of creamy silverbeet I did as a side dish. I would recommend this cooking method for picnics and dinner parties, served along side an appetiser maybe to give a dish some bulk.

I have by no means quenched my thirst for information about this strange food we call polenta, and look forward to future experiments!

Re 'the only tasty polenta' I mentioned earlier, my friend introduced me to a killer GF cookie recipe, maybe I will get her to guest blog about it soon!

Until next time, good day.

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