Sunday, January 27, 2008

Polenta - Soft Food Kicked Up

Polenta is an interesting dish. What it amounts to is congealed corn mush with a bit of spaghetti sauce on it. What a restaurant can't sell during breakfast for fifty cents, they can dress and up and charge $20.00 a plate for dinner. Polenta is generally considered to be a side dish, but I first served it to my family last Friday as a main dish, with ratatouile and bread on the side.

We also watched the Disney movie 'Ratatouile.' You know, one of those silly but oh-so-important family togetherness things. Actually, it was kind of fun.

Polenta is also a wonderful soft food. People who have trouble with more substantial food, such as those who have had dental work, are missing teeth, or otherwise have a sore mouth, cry out for something they eat besides Jello. A good polenta may just be the answer.

This is a basic polenta recipe, made just a bit creamier by adding mozzarella cheese.


1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal (the finer, the better)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup of your favorite marinara
Additional grated mozzarella cheese and parsley for garnish


1.Finely grate the cheese and set aside. Spray a 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2.Heat the water and salt to boiling in a medium saucepan.

3.Gradually add the cornmeal, beating with a wire whisk as you slowly pour it in. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.

It's important that you only add a little bit of cornmeal to the boiling water at a time to avoid lumps. We want the mixture to be very smooth.

4.Add the cheese and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often. The mixture should be quite thick.

5.Pour the mixture into the 9 inch baking pan, and smooth out the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until quite firm (at least 4 hours).

6.After the cornmeal mixture has become quite firm, remove it from the pan by inverting it on a cold cutting board. Slice into 16 small squares.

7.Melt the butter in a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the polenta squares, half at a time, until lightly browned on both sides. Meanwhile, heat your favorite marinara sauce until hot.

8.Serve the squares, two at a time, topped with hot marinara sauce. Add a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese, and a bit of parsley for garnish.

This recipe can also be prepared using Parmesan, Romano, or any other hard, grating cheese. Just reduce the amount to 1/ 4 cup.

Makes 8 side-dish servings.

Update -- Once in a while, after leaving the polenta mixture in the refrigerator, even overnight, it doesn't get firm. I'm not sure why. If that happens to you, place the mixture, in the 9-inch baking pan, in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. It's going to turn into a liquid, and a crust may develop on top and the sides. That's okay. Take it out, remove the crusted parts if desired, and let it sit on your counter until it's cool. It will firm right up.

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