I have this friend at work; let’s call her Lorraine (because that is her name). She introduced me to a restaurant that serves polenta fries. Whenever we go there together, we share an appetizer of four polenta fries and a tiny little bowl of marinara sauce. I could eat all four for my appetizer, and then four more for lunch and forget about everything else on the menu. I like these polenta fries so much that I decided to learn how to make them myself.
Are you afraid of polenta? Do you think it sounds super exotic and imagine it’s full of things of which you are unsure you will like? Take a deep breath while I tell you that polenta is corn. That’s right. Corn. Corn meal to be exact – that’s cooked on a stove in a similar fashion to quinoa, rice, bulgur, etc. You bring liquid to a boil, add the dried corn meal, stir, and then decide how you want to eat it.
Do you want to eat it creamy right off the stove? Perhaps you want your polenta cooled and sliced and served alongside meat with gravy on top? Or maybe you want to try polenta baked in the oven in the form of French fries. I am pretty sure that’s what you want to do. Here is how to do it (it’s SO easy!).
2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 ¼ cups corn meal
½ tsp salt
pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
¼ cup butter
1/3 cup grated parmesan (I use a mixture of parmesan and pecorino)
Bring the water and milk to a boil in a pot but don’t turn the heat up to maximum (otherwise the milk might burn).
Measure out your corn meal and salt.
Get your lucky spoon ready to go. Mine was my Great Grandmother Clara's, and was then used for years by my Great Aunt Eileen. I inherited it when she passed away and make sure to use it as much as possible!
Once there is a small rolling boil on the milk/water combo, immediately reduce the heat to low and add the salt. Then slowly pour in the corn meal, stirring constantly.
Most recipes I have read say to keep the mixture on the heat for 10-20 minutes until it thickens. I do not understand how this is possible because my cornmeal thickens instantly and if I keep it on the heat, it bubbles and flies all over the place. So instead, I am going to ask you to turn the heat off, remove the pan from the stove, and stir until smooth (so you can’t see any lumps). Now you have polenta!
Add the butter and stir until it’s melted.
Then add the cheese and do the same.
Now add your pepper. Taste it – is it good? Yes? Great. Needs salt or pepper? Add away! Here you could also add your rosemary but sadly for me, I don’t have any on hand today.
Now you’re going to take an 8 x 8 inch square glass casserole and line it with parchment paper.
Plop the polenta into the prepared pan and use a butter knife or spatula to spread it out until it’s as smooth as you can get it. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Instead of using plastic wrap, try reusable beeswax wrap. You can wash it after use and use it again and again.
Remove from the fridge when set and grasp the parchment to lift the potent out of the pan. Place the polenta onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the square polenta into “fries”.
I like to keep them very thick so they crisp up on the outside when I bake them, but they stay fluffy inside (I use my two fingers as a guide for ideal width).
Prepare a cookie sheet by spraying cooking spray onto it, or using a brush to spread olive oil onto it. Place the fries on the cookie sheet, leaving space in between each of the fries to ensure maximum crispiness.
Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes then remove the pan from the oven and flip the fries over.
Put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until they are golden brown and crispy around the edges.
Serve with marinara sauce, or pomodoro sauce – some kind of tomato sauce will do the trick (tomato sauce recipe here: http://richlerrecipes.blogspot.ca/2013/07/noahs-spaghetti-and-meatballs.html).
You can serve them as an appetizer, side dish with salads or a main course like chicken, or you can bring them to a potluck and watch them disappear.
At the potluck we hosted two weeks ago, someone brought fondue and we discovered that polenta fries taste pretty darn good if you dip them into the fondue (but the tomato sauce is better).