Often dismissed as bland mush, polenta is deeply comforting and is exactly what’s needed to go with strongly flavoured dishes – rich meaty casseroles, chorizo, mushrooms, or garlicky tomato sauce, for example. Fried until crisp, it also makes fantastic chips. Like porridge, success depends on what you stir into it. Here, I have used salty cheese and plenty of black pepper to beef up the flavour.
Pour the water into a large, heavy-based saucepan, add the salt and bring to the boil. Stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, slowly add the polenta, trickling it through your fingers like sand.
Stir the polenta for 30–40 minutes until the mixture is very smooth and starts to come away from the sides of the pan. Then add the butter, cheeses and crushed peppercorns and stir until thoroughly mixed in.
Tip into an oiled shallow roasting tin measuring 20 x 30cm/8 x 12in, spreading the mixture into the corners and levelling the surface – a wet palette knife comes in handy. Once cool, slice the polenta into sticks, measuring about 6 x 1cm/2½ x ½in.
Heat some olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan (enough to come about 8mm/⅜in up the sides of the pan). When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, fry the polenta chips in batches until crisp and golden, turning with tongs.
Drain on crumpled paper towels, tip into a warm dish and sprinkle with sea salt flakes and more black pepper.
For a deliciously cheesy snack, slice the cooled polenta into eight rectangles. Arrange in a grill pan without a rack and sprinkle generously with coarsely grated cheese – about
© 2008 Christine McFadden. All rights reserved.