Anna Jones’ recipes for quick polenta bakes constructed two ways | The modern cook
Anna Jones recipes: Whether baked 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 style, 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 house 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 induce 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 spat 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 indicating this is the definitive style 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 tastes far better. Like the corn its ground from, it comes in a buttery spectrum from deep amber to merely 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 mind the finer the grain, the quicker it will cook. The liquid its cooked in too is something to hold, 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 maintain a clean flavor and stock for the cook: you could mixture 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 remains delicious and creamy beneath a crisp crust. Both dishes make a real snack 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.