The standard polenta recipe calls for nothing more than water, salt, and coarsely ground cornmeal; add-ins such as butter and cheese are optional garnishes, added at the end.
But this recipe — adapted from recipes in Barefoot Contessa Family Style and Molto Batali — starts out with most of the garnishes as a base and cooks the polenta a little less than usual. It’s creamy not just from the soft texture of the cooked cornmeal but from the addition of butter, milk, and crème fraîche. Serve it as a side dish to any roasted meat, or just on its own.
| ||⅛ || cup olive oil |
| ||½ || stick unsalted butter |
| ||¼ to ½ || tsp. red-pepper flakes |
| ||1 || tsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves |
| ||3 to 4 || garlic cloves, minced |
| ||½ || tsp. salt |
| ||½ || tsp. freshly ground black pepper |
| ||2 || cups milk |
| ||2 || cups chicken or vegetable stock |
| ||2 || cups water |
| ||2 || cups polenta cornmeal (see Note) |
| ||½ || cup freshly grated Parmesan |
| ||~ || Olive oil, butter, and flour, for pan-frying |
| ||1 || bunch chard leaves, beet greens, or other slightly bitter, study winter greens, stems removed and diced and leaves sliced or shredded |
| ||~ || Red-wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, for splashing |
| ||~ || Crème fraîche, for garnishing |
- Put the olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven and turn the heat to medium. Add the chile flakes, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper, and sauté for a minute or so. (Don’t let the garlic burn!) Add the milk, stock, and water, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and, whisking briskly, slowly add the cornmeal. Replace the whisk with a long-handled wooden spoon and cook, stirring steadily but not vigorously, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and is bubbling. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan.
- If you want to serve the polenta as a fresh, soft porridge, quickly sauté the chard stems for a few minutes in a little olive oil, then add the sliced leaves and sauté until wilted. Add a little red-wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice just before the chard has finished cooking. Ladle the fresh polenta into individual serving bowls and top with the sautéed greens and a dollop of crème fraîche for each serving.
- If you want to serve the polenta as firmer, pan-fried squares or triangles, scrape the freshly cooked polenta into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish (greased with a little olive oil, if you like, to make removal easier), smooth out the top surface of the polenta, and chill it for at least 30 minutes, until the polenta is firm and cool.
- When ready to serve, sauté the chard stems in a little olive oil, then add the sliced leaves and sauté until wilted. Add a little red-wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice just before the chard has finished cooking. Set aside the cooked chard and tent to keep it warm.
- Cut the cooled polenta into squares (and then, if you like, into triangles). Lightly dip the squares or triangles in a bowl of flour, then briefly pan-fry them (a cast-iron pan is best) in a little olive oil and/or butter until browned on both sides and heated through. (You can also sear the polenta squares on a well-oiled grill pan, or run them under the broiler.)
- To serve, arrange each warm polenta slice with a little mound of wilted greens on top, dolloped with a little crème fraîche.
Cornmeal sold for polenta use may be labeled as polenta or polenta grits. Cornmeal packaged for polenta (try the bulk section of your grocery store) is generally degermed before being ground. You can also use coarsely ground or medium-grind corn ground from whole kernels; it has more nutrients and is perfectly tasty as a polenta substitute, although the resulting porridge will be less creamy.