Anna Jones’ recipes for quick polenta cooks induced two ways | The modern cook

Anna Jones recipes: Whether cooked slowly or finished off under the grill, polenta loves subtle spices, creamy butter and cheese and its perfect with earthy mushrooms and bitter radicchio …

Every household has a food thats divisive. Round my way, its polenta I love the stuff, while my husband has never understood the appeal. Ive converted him with these recipes though, so its polenta for dinner every night in our home until spring.

Originally, polenta was used as a wider word for anything vaguely grain-like, simmered and bubbled to a smooth porridge and spiked with spices and cheese. It was something I learned to construct early on. My first few years as a cook were almost solely in Italian kitchens and a big pot of bubbling polenta was almost always on the stove. I cooked it in massive batches in deep heavy pans that bubbled and simmered and spats like a delicious buttery geyser. It was almost meditative to stand and stir it and then anoint it with butter and so much parmesan that my limb would go numb grating it.

Theres a lot of tradition and sentiment when it is necessary to polenta, and Im sure Ill be in trouble with someone for how I cook mine. Im not suggesting this is the definitive way to do it, but it is how I like it at home. One thing Id definitely advise: if youre cooking it on the stovetop, stir it regularly, as with a risotto. This will stop it sticking and enhance its creaminess.

When buying polenta, its good to know what to look for. I avoid the quick-cooking polenta as the real stuff doesnt take that long to cook and savours far better. Like the corn its ground from, it comes in a buttery spectrum from deep amber to just off-white. The white stuff is harder to get hold of and has a more gentle and delicate corn flavour. It also comes in anything from finely ground to very coarse. The coarse one dedicates a better flavour, but does take a little longer to cook to a silky texture.

If polenta is hard to get hold of, you might find the same stuff labelled as cornmeal it may be a lot cheaper, too. Bear in intellect the finer the grain, the quicker it will cook. The liquid its cooked in too is something to consider, a lot of cooks cook it with milk or a mix of milk and water or even stock. I use water and stock respectively, water for the oozy polenta to keep a clean flavour and stock for the bake: you could mix and match as you please.

Here I cook polenta in two ways, one on the stove-top that results in the classic spoonable creaminess. The other I cook in the oven, which bides delicious and creamy beneath a crisp crust. Both dishes make a real meal of polenta.

Quick saffron polenta bake

Warming, saffron-scented polenta is double-cooked here once in the pan and then finished under the grill with a scattering of squash, kale and feta. The feta crispens and the squash burnishes as the polenta finishes cooking. I love the warming sunny flavour of saffron, but it can be pricey. If you dont have any at home, you can make this without it, or use another herb, such as thyme or oregano. It wont taste the same, but it will add another dimension to your polenta.

Quick Quick saffron polenta bake: double-cooked once in the pan and then finished under the grill with a scattering of squash, kale and feta. Photo: Issy Croker for the Guardian

Serves 4
A pinch of saffron strands
750ml hot vegetable stock
150g coarse polenta or cornmeal
50ml olive oil, plus a little extra for sauting veg
Salt and black pepper
250g piece of butternut squash, skin removed
1 head of kale( about 180 g) or other wintertime greens
A small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
100g feta cheese, disintegrated( optional)
1 unwaxed lemon, zested
A handful of toasted pine nuts
A small handful of rocket

1 Dissolve the saffron threads in the hot stock. Set the stock into a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat and slowly pour in the polenta or cornmeal, stirring as you go. Maintain beating until the concoction thickens and starts to bubble, which will take about 56 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, season to taste with salt and black pepper, then pour into an ovenproof dish.

Creamy This is my favourite way to cook polenta slowly, then spiked with butter and parmesan. Photo: Issy Croker for the Guardian

2 Use a speed peeler to slice the squash into thin ribbons. Separate the kale leaves from their woody husks( discard the husks) and finely shred the foliages. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and saut the squash, kale foliages, garlic and thyme foliages until wilted and crisp at the edges. Season to taste, then put aside. Preheat the grill to high.

3 Scatter the kale and squash concoction over the polenta, then top with the feta and lemon zest.

4 Set the dish under the hot grill for 1012 minutes, or until the squash has begun to brown and the feta has browned and crisped with the heat. Let the polenta to cool for a few minutes before dressing with pine nuts and rocket. Serve in the middle of the table so that everyone can dig in and help themselves.

Creamy polenta with charred mushrooms( main painting)

The earthiness of the mushrooms and bitter notes of the radicchio make this recipe the perfect thing to eat with naturally sweet polenta.

Serves 4
2 heads of radicchio
6 large portobello mushrooms or other wild mushrooms
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves
Small bunch of marjoram or oregano, leaves picked
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt

For the polenta
150g( about a mugful) of polentaor cornmeal
25g good butter
50g freshly grated parmesan( I use a vegetarian one)
A big handful of watercress
Salt and black pepper

1 Fill the kettle with water and bring it to the boil. Cut the radicchio into quarterss, then put the pieces into a large, shallow dish. Add your mushrooms. If youre use large mushrooms, cut them in half before adding these to the dish.

2 In a small bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, garlic, marjoram or oregano, olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Mix well, then pour over the radicchio and mushrooms.

3 Get on with your polenta. Pour 1 litre of boiled water from the kettle into a large pan over a medium heat. Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking as you go. Cook for five minutes, or until the polenta thickens a little, then turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes until cooked, stirring frequently( at least every five minutes) to make sure that it doesnt stick or go lumpy. The polenta is cooked when it has lost its grainy texture and feelings smooth.

4 Add the butter and parmesan to the cooked polenta, then season to taste with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

5 Heat a griddle pan over a medium heat. Remove the mushrooms and radicchio from the marinade, permitting any excess to drip off back into the shallow dish. Reserve the marinade. Griddle the mushrooms and radicchio until they have become charred and soft throughout about 3-4 minutes on each side. Once cooked, chop them very roughly and put them back into the marinade.

6 When everything is ready, ladle the polenta into bowls and top with the radicchio and mushrooms, another grating of parmesan and a small heap of watercress.

Anna Jones is a chef, novelist and author of A Modern Way to Eatand A Modern Way to Cook( Fourth Estate ); annajones.co.uk; @we_are_food

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