Polenta is one of my favorite dishes, especially when I'm in need for a good dose of comfort food. It's a centuries-old northern Italian tradition that fills and warms your belly. Polenta is delicious when made right and in the right proportion with equal parts polenta, sauce, veggies or meat. It's an ideal accompaniment that goes with all kinds of food like grilled chicken or turkey sausages, a mix of roasted vegetables or just one or two of your favorites.
I like polenta best cut into squares, grilled and served with generous amounts of tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese and vegetables like sauteed mushrooms, asparagus or steamed kale. When making the tomato sauce, always use fresh tomatoes or good quality canned tomatoes. My favorite is Italissima canned tomatoes, which are reasonably priced and can be found in Italian markets or most grocery stores.
Try this simple recipe and change it up to suit your tastes. For something a little different, try making this with white cornmeal. A similar dish that's another favorite of mine is this one for chile-corn custard with salsa and avocado.
Polenta Squares with Tomato Sauce (serves 4)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup cornmeal
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic bulbs, minced
a dash of chili flakes
1 (28 oz/796 ml) can of tomatoes, pureed
Polenta: Bring water and milk to a boil in alarge pot, then slowly pour in the cornmeal while stirring with a whisk to start, switching to a spoon when it gets too thick. Simmer on a low heat until the polenta thickens, for about 15 minutes. Add butter, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
Using a little butter or olive oil, grease the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Pour the polenta into the dish and smooth the top making an even layer. Place in the fridge and let cool for 20 minutes and cut into squares.
Tomato Sauce: Meanwhile, put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 15 minutes, until the onion begins to caramelize. Add minced garlic and chili flakes and stir for a minute. Add the can of tomatoes, pureed, give the sauce a good stir and then put a lid on the pot and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.
Topping: Prepare whatever you'd like to serve alongside the polenta and tomato sauce. For this dish, I sauteed green beans, kale and cherry tomatoes over a medium high heat for 5 minutes.
The finishing touches: Heat a large frying pan with oil and once hot add the polenta squares. Fry on both sides until crispy and golden. To serve, add a generous spoonful of tomato sauce onto a plate. Top with a square or two of polenta, your veggies or meat and then grate a little extra cheese on top.