Polenta

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The colour alone, lightly scorched corn-yellow, is a good reason to put a wedge of grilled polenta on a plate. Add to that the sunshine of roasted peppers or the vivid greens of wilted chard, sprouting broccoli or fresh rocket and you can hardly go wrong. At Paradiso we always make ‘set’ polenta for grilling or frying, but if you want to serve the polenta fresh and ‘wet’ add extra water at the start and cook for the same length of time. Remember that it is only porridge made from maize and takes a lot of seasoning and added flavours to make it Interesting. I generally use a simple polenta as a foil for dishes rich in olive oil, dairy produce or spices. The recipe below is for the polenta most often made at Paradiso and is only lightly seasoned with chilli and oregano, to be served as a starter or with the likes of the aubergine gamelastra. This quantity will fill a standard Swiss-roll tray to a thickness of about 15mm, which would feed eight to twelve people. It is a simple matter to make the polenta thicker or thinner as you fancy, or to make less by using a smaller container; indeed it doesn’t need a container and could simply be spread on a chopping board or worktop. The corn I use is sold as ‘coarse maize’ and the times and water quantities below work for this. If you use a product called ‘polenta’ or ‘Instant polenta’ just follow the instructions on the pack. They are all essentially the same thing - corn or maize.

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Ingredients

  • 1.2 litres water or stock
  • 300 g coarse maize
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp chopped dried chillies
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Method

BRING THE STOCK TO THE BOIL in a large pot. Sift the other ingredients together, then quickly whisk them into the boiling liquid. As soon as it comes back to the boil, turn down the heat and swap the whisk for a wooden spoon. Polenta, like porridge can splatter volcanically at this stage, so be careful. Simmer the polenta for about 12 minutes, stirring often. It will become thick and gloopy quickly making it difficult to decide when it is cooked; generally I simply give it the allotted time and then take it off the heat. Line a Swiss-roll tray with baking parchment, or lightly oil the tray, and quickly spread the polenta into it. Use a dampened pallet knife, rolling pin or the palm of your hand to give it a smooth finish. Alternatively, simply spread it on a worktop or chopping board and level it as best you can. Leave the polenta to cool and set for half an hour or so, then turn it out and slice it into the shapes you want to use. The recipe is a basic model for a simple starter of grilled polenta.