Have you tried Polenta?

Our family has become increasingly vegetarian over the last couple of years as we start to question where our food really comes from, and how it was raised. This has been a gradual process, with an occasional leap forward when we discover new recipes.

One of the really wonderful discoveries in our vegetarian odyssey has been polenta. I don’t recall ever eating polenta until I came across it in one of our vegetarian cookbooks. I remember thinking “What the heck is that?”. Apparently my mum cooks now with polenta, but growing up … *shrug*. Possibly it was served and being an incredibly fussy eater (sorry Mum!) I just didn’t touch it, or purged it from my memory … who knows.

Now I find that polenta is a very useful alternative to pasta or rice when you want to make something with a sauce, but you are, frankly, sick of pasta or rice. (Pasta in my house is like a magic food and is practically guaranteed to be eaten by the under fives, provided it is spiral shaped, and is served plain without sauce. *rolls eyes*)

Tonight I made one of our favourites: polenta with a white wine and mushroomy-Dijon-rosemary sauce. I won’t post the recipe, because I make this one straight out of my cookbook, but I will share how to make up some polenta, so you can try it out for yourselves, if you are like me and have never tried it!

The tasty polenta I like best is made with vegetable stock (I just use powder for this), milk, parmesan cheese, and polenta. Typically you use one part polenta (eg. 1 cup) to four parts of liquid (1 cup of milk, 3 cups vegetable stock or water). You bring the liquid to the boil (if you use milk, don’t wander off without stirring or the milk could stick on the bottom). Then you add a bit of the polenta and stir it through much as you would a risotto, but on fast forward. This stirring phase only takes about two minutes for me! You are aiming for a thick soft consistency and it gets harder to stir the pot.

Once it’s good and thick, I stir through a bunch of grated parmesan. Not too much, because (a) it’s not the cheapest cheese in the world, and (b) it’s a little fatty to add a lot, I prefer just to taste the cheese. Maybe a half cup max? It’s up to you. “To taste” as they say.

Then you pour the mix into a cake pan of some kind, that you have greased up. Tonight I did something a little different and put it into a muffin pan:

Polenta in a muffin pan.
Polenta in a muffin pan!

This worked so much better than my usual flat pan technique, that I was inspired to write this post. An innovation! Well, maybe. Two of these muffin serves work really well for an adult, and one for the kids. I tried to convince the small ones that they were “polenta muffins” which got Will really excited, but he still only ate like a sparrow. He did say “Mmmm! Delicious, my favourite!”, which means he liked the flavours, at least. 🙂

Once the polenta is in the mould, you just let it sit for an hour until it sets (you can refrigerate it and leave it overnight if you like). Mine just popped up out of the muffin tray within half an hour and I served them just like that for the kids. For us, I fried them a little in some butter, like so:

Frying polenta in butter.
Gently frying polenta in butter

Then we had our favourite sauce on top, with some greens. Easy :). Lots of different sauces work well with polenta. Tomato sauce with basil and cannellini beans … maybe even just baked beans for the kids. You could also try a beef-bean chilli (although don’t quote me on that!)

If you haven’t got time to use a mould and let it sit, the polenta is also really tasty just straight out of the pot. It is a little like a soft mashed potato in consistency. So you just stick the sauce on top even though it isn’t set! This works great if you have to feed the kids right now and you can give them something sneaked out of a pot (so much more delicious than when it gets plated up!). This also works well for any extra polenta that didn’t fit into your chosen mould!

For reference, I got 12 muffin pans from my 1 cup of polenta, which I will use as six adult serves (ie. tonight and a bunch of lunches and kid serves). I got to lick the pot, too!

Polenta with mushroom sauce.
Dinner! Polenta with Rosemary Dijon Mushroom sauce.

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