Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Something From Nothing #17: Polenta Fries
Every month when I start planning my Something From Nothing post I stand in front of my open pantry door and gaze around for inspiration. I must admit that the longer I do these posts the more challenging it becomes, so I had to stare a little bit longer than usual this month. Then I saw my salvation in the form of a box of cornmeal.
I decided that cornmeal, or polenta as some might prefer to call it, is a perfect ingredient for my next recipe in this series. Growing up in south Texas, I saw my relatives use it for cornbread, stuffing for a turkey and as a crunchy breading for fried fish and okra. As an adult, I then began to enjoy it in Italian dishes as polenta.
I really like it any way you want to prepared it, but one of my favorite ways is polenta fries. Really no more than a firm set cornmeal mush that is twice cooked, polenta fries are delicious all on their own as a cocktail snack, or as a hearty crunchy side dish for grilled steaks or chicken.
Even though it is easy to cook, this recipe does take a little bit of advanced planning. The first stage of cooking takes about 20 minutes, then the polenta must be cooled and cut which takes 30 minutes or so, and then the fries are broiled for and additional 15 - 20 minutes or so. Aside from the fact that it takes a few extra minutes, this is really a perfect example of something great from nothing.
3 - 1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if not using stock)
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal or polenta (there is really no difference)
2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
Cheese and herb seasoning (optional):
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (optional)
Place water or stock, salt (if using water) and polenta in a large stock pot (use a big pot because as the polenta boils it splatters high and wide) set over medium high heat.
Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, swap the whisk out for a wooden spoon, reduce heat to medium and cook while stirring frequently for approximately 15 minutes or until it is very thick (about the consistency of oatmeal).
Spray an 8 inch square baking dish or pie pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour cooked polenta into the dish, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon, and allow to cool and set completely.
Line a cookie sheet with foil and brush with on half of the oil; set aside.
Invert the cooled and set polenta onto a clean cutting board. Cut in half across the middle then into 1/2" thick slices in the opposite direction.
Preheat oven to broil, placing an oven rack one level up from the middle.
Transfer slices to prepared cookie sheet with the cut sides up. Brush with the remaining oil.
Place cookie sheet into the oven and broil until tops begin to brown (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from the oven, turn over and return to the oven to cook the other side for an additional 5 minutes.
If making the optional seasoning, combine the cheese and Italian seasoning in a small bowl; set aside.
Remove the fries from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese and herb seasoning. Serve immediately.