Tag Archives: polenta

Polenta Chips

Yay, Autumn is well and truly here! On the plus side, there its lots of fruit about for jamming (more of which soon), but then there have also been endless conversations with friends and colleagues about whether the weather means it is time to put on the heating. This is rather ridiculous, given we were all sweltering in a heatwave a few weeks ago. Personally, I’m going to maintain an iron will and shall refuse to touch the radiators until the first of October. Even then, I’ll hold out for as long as the cats can stand it!

The change in temperature has, however, given me the perfect opportunity to try some of the more, ahm, “robust” recipe ideas that I have on my try-at-some-point list, which tend to be those that are made from lots of wheat, potatoes or corn (or some combination of all three). This is just one of those recipes. For these are chips (or fries if you must) but made from polenta rather than potatoes. And you know what? The end product actually looks like a pretty good substitute for their potato-based cousins! Golden and crisp!

PolentaChips2

I first remember eating these style of chips years ago, but they were more like deep-fried bars of polenta and a bit of a novelty in posher pubs. Then, more recently, this dish has started to pop up again, but in the guise of thin, match-stick style bars of golden deliciousness, and infused with all manner of herbs and spices and served with a variety of sauces for dipping (and I’ve enjoyed them with everything from tasty mayonnaise to rather dubious overly-sweet fruity chutneys).

So, how hard could it be to make them at home? I mean, it’s just sweetcorn, right? As it turns out, these chips are actually incredibly simple. Super-simple. You just make a batch of polenta, leave it to set in a tray, then slice into fingers and bake in the oven. That’s it.

For the polenta mixture, it was just a case of mixing the polenta meal, vegetable stock, chili paste and herbs, plus a dash of olive oil (the olive oil is essential, so that they crisp up when you bake them later). This really allows you to go to town on flavours. While I used herbes de provence you could just as easily go for paprika, spiced such as cumin or curry powder, or even cheese. The only thing to keen an eye on is the level of salt, either on its own or from the stock used to make the polenta. As the baking process will drive a lot of moisture from the polenta, the flavour will become more concentrated, so you should aim to slightly under-season the mixture. And hey, these things are chips – if you need to add more salt, just sprinkle it on them at the end. Even at that stage you can get creative, grinding fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme with salt to add some extra flavour. OK, clearly we’re dangerously close to gastro-pub territory here…

Now, I would love to be able to tell you that I made these flawlessly first time. But…when it came to baking these bad boys, I had to go up a bit of a learning curve. I thought I would be really smart and spread them out on greaseproof paper that was coated in a little olive oil. No sticking here, I thought! However, I had completely failed to think about the fact that during baking, there would be a lot of water driven out of the polenta. The result? The chips got rather stuck to the paper, and said paper started to fall apart thanks to all that steam.

Having removed the tray from the oven, separated the chips and the paper (the oil did its job in the end), then lined the tray with a drizzle of olive oil and put the whole lot back into the oven, things then proceeded perfectly. I was impressed that, given just how little oil was involved, the chips went from the pale yellow of the polenta to a rich, toasted shade of gold and acquired a good, crisp snap and decent crunch. They were just delicious served up with mayonnaise, beer and not much else.

PolentaChips1

I’ve raved about how easy these chips are to make…so how to they taste? I was pretty much blown away by the end result. The heat from the chili and the herbs is still there, but what had been essentially soft sticks of creamed corn had been transformed into something crisp and with a toasted, almost nutty flavour. The flavour was not unlike those giant fried corn seeds you get in tapas bars, and very more-ish.

These chips make a great alternative to “normal” chips with dinner, and have the bonus of remaining very crisp even as the cool. In fact, you can happily leave them to cool down completely, and then serve them as a snack with drinks. And, given I’m going through a rather busy patch at work, you can even (dare I say it) reheat them rather successfully the next day. All that – from corn!

To make polenta chips (serves 2, or 1 if being greedy…)

• 150g polenta meal
• 600ml water
• vegetable stock
• 2 teaspoons dried herbs
• chili paste, to taste
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking tray

1. Cook the polenta according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In my case – bring the water to the boil, then add the polenta (stirring all the time), add the rest of the ingredients and cook over a very low heat until the grains are soft.

2. In the meantime, line a tray with cling film. Pour the cooked polenta into the tray, then smooth the top (use the back of an oiled spoon) and cover with more cling film. Leave until completely cold and firm – overnight is fine.

3. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). Drizzle a baking tray with a little olive oil.

4. Remove the slab of polenta from the cling film, and use a sharp knife to cut into chips (thin sticks, fat chips, crinkle-cut…). Spread the chips on the baking tray, and pop into the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes until crisp and golden. You may need to remove them from the oven from time to time to shake them up and get an even colour.

Worth making? These chips are amazing. Super-crisp and packed with flavour. If potato allergy were a thing, then these would be your saviour!

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Polenta and Ricotta Cake

We’ve just had a long weekend in London, so of course someone decided to organise a barbecue. Normally a cause for celebration, but there is this rather odd phenomenon in England, where by a long weekend seems to pretty much guarantee that the weather will be bad. In fairness, we’d had three days of solid rain, so at some point the skies were due to run out of water, but it seemed that Sunday was not the day that we would be lucky. I can assure you that it was pretty hard to coax me out from under the duvet, as a wet day in someone’s back garden is always far less appealing that reading the papers in bed with endless cups of tea.

I digress. Attending a barbecue, I had to take something, and I was on dessert duty. I could have gone for those staples such as fruit salad, chocolate cake or Eton Mess, but I just fancied something different. Then I remembered a recipe for (surprise, surprise) a polenta and ricotta cake that I had been meaning to try. My experience of such cakes to date has been good, and this one is jazzed up by adding a decent amount of apricots. I also liked the idea that this was vaguely  Italian, thus keeping alive the memory of my holiday, which seems so long ago when you look outside and see dozens of umbrellas and people battling the wind as they walk.

Always feeling the need to improvise and tweak recipes, I swapped cognac for Japanese plum wine as the medium in which to soak the apricots, infusing them with a delicious plummy, port-like flavour. I also omitted the walnuts suggested in the original recipe. I like walnuts, but I didn’t think they would fit this cake. I also cut down the amount of sugar, added a little lemon zest, and swapped some of the polenta with fine maize meal (because, eh, I ran out of polenta and had fine maize meal in the cupboard. As I said, it has been raining and I didn’t want to go outside more than necessary!).

This cake was a breeze to make. No messing around with eggs. Just melt some butter, then throw everything into a bowl and use and electric beater to get everything nice and fluffy. With the orange of the apricots and the yellow of the lemon zest, polenta and the butter, it was quite a “sunny” baking experience. And just to force the point, the cake was then glazed with apricot jam, leaving it with a pleasant orange glow. And a good way to use that home-made apricot jam you happen to have lying in the fridge.

But given the eggless character of this cake, how was it? Compared to something like a Victoria sponge, the cake does have a slightly more solid, dense character to it. The addition of the alcohol-soaked apricots therefore makes a welcome addition to the texture. I really liked it – more of an old-fashioned teacake than a big, fluffy bit of sponge, with little notes of freshness from the lemon and the texture of the polenta coming through. When paired with a spoonful of smooth room-temperature mascarpone, this made for a superb afternoon treat.

For the polenta and ricotta cake:

• 250g dried apricots (the soft type)
• 4 tablespoons plum wine or cognac
• 200g plain flour
• 70g coarse polenta
• 130g fine maize meal
• 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 100g butter, melted and cooled
• 200g sugar
• 250g ricotta
• zest of 1 lemon
• 180ml water, lukewarm
• apricot jam, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°C). Line a 20 cm springform cake tray with baking parchment.

Slice the apricots into slivers (easiest with clean scissors) and mix with the plum wine or cognac. Leave to sit for at least 15 minutes, ideally until all the liquid has been absorbed.

In a bowl, combine the flour, polenta, maize meal and baking powder. Pour in the melted butter, sugar, ricotta, lemon zest and water. Mix with an electric beater until creamy and smooth (around 1 minute).

Finally, fold the apricots through the batter.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Try to get a swirly pattern you are happy with, as the top will not become smooth during baking.

Loosely cover the top of the cake tray with tin foil, and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the tin foil. Keep baking until the cake is risen, golden and springy to the touch. An inserted skewer should come out clean. Total cooking time will be between 1 and 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the cooked cake from the oven, and allow to cool in the tin. Before serving, glaze the top of the cake with apricot jam, and serve slices with a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche.

Worth making? This was a lovely cake which made a change from the usual sponge cake. The flavours work well together, and it looks rustic and pretty, so minimal fuss necessary in terms of decorating. Well worth trying.

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Quick Polenta

My word!  After weeks and weeks of waiting, I finally manage to have dinner outside yesterday evening. It looks like summer has arrived in London, which is a very good thing. Out comes the rosé wine (a little naff, but I love it), wooden terrace table and a range of quick summer suppers. In fact, it is shaping up to be a nice weekend with cloudless blue skies over London.

And what was on the menu for such a momentous occasion? I made a simple polenta, quickly pan-fried it and served it with a warm-ish, thick tomato sauce and a side salad (just broad leaf parsley, chopped tomato, courgette slivers and a little bulgar wheat and a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette). All very light and it suited the warm evening.  What is particularly nice at the moment about sitting in the garden is that the leaves still have the bright green freshness of early summer. Suggests months to come of trips to the seaside, holidays and weekends lazing in the heat in the park. Fingers crossed that it’s going to be a good one this year!

For the polenta (to serve 2):

• 100g instant polenta
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste
• 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
• 25g butter
• 25g cheese (parmesan, pecorino…)

Cook the polenta according to the instructions on the packet (as a rule of thumb, usually 200ml water to 50g polenta).  When you add the dry polenta, add the seasoning and spices. You might need to add more water as the polenta is cooking to keep it from becoming too dry. Once ready, stir in the butter and cheese. Pour into a tray and allow to cool. It should set quite firmly. Tip: pour into a non-stick cake tray, then thanks to the butter, it will just come right out.

To cook, simply cut into pieces and fry gently with a little olive oil over a gentle heat until lightly brown. If you like it slightly charred, keep cooking as long as needed.

Serve with tomato sauce and shavings of cheese.

For tomato sauce:

• 2 small onions, very finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
• 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (use best quality you can)
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste
• pinch of sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon of paprika

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden. Add the garlic and stir until it is cooked. Add the tomatoes and seasoning. Stir well, then simmer over a gentle heat until the sauce reduces and becomes thick.

Worth making? Oh, I am being a bit repetitive with all my recommendations to try this and that. But this really is a nice supper for the evening, and has the benefit of being gluten-free (and would become dairy-free if you skip the cheese too), so it’s useful to have in the back pocket. It also makes a nice change from pasta when you want something simple, and the polenta can easily be prepared a few hours or even the evening before. If you’re having it as a summer dish, just remember to serve slightly warm rather than hot.

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