Saturday, August 29, 2009

Playing with Polenta

You know how sometimes you hear about something and every time you turn around you are hearing about it again? A while back, my friend, Morry, wrote about polenta here and here. She always makes everything look so beautiful and sound so yummy and easy, I thought, hmm, one day I'll try that. Then Brian Boitano was making polenta for his show "What Would Brian Boitano Make?" on Sunday on the Food Network. He made the instant kind, so I thought, that stuff actually looks pretty easy to make. Then there was a re-run of "Everyday Italian" where Giada used polenta for hors d'ourves. And the kicker was this post by my friend Sarah from New Zealand. So, I figured it was time for me to join the ranks of folks who play around with polenta.

Polenta is simply corn grits. I have always loved hominy grits. I think as a kid my body was saying, "This is gluten-free! Eat it all the time! You will grow and be happy if you eat this stuff!" I love the texture. It's like porridge. You can totally pretend you are Oliver Twist while eating these. The great thing about polenta is that it is a base for you to add whatever flavors you want to it. You can go sweet or savory, Italian or Mexican, cheesy or spicy, whatever you are in the mood for, polenta can pull it off. And, it falls into the category of foods that are NATURALLY GLUTEN FREE, which really is our focus as gluten free eaters. So I thought I would try polenta three ways and see which one I liked best.

I remember eating the Sweet Corn Tomalito at Chevy's Restaurant a while back. It is sooo good. Here is the actual recipe, which calls for masa flour and cornmeal. Well, I didn't have fifty minutes to cook a corn pudding, so I thought I'd try to make it with instant polenta. I used the DeLallo instant polenta and made it with milk instead of water. When it was done, I put about a quarter of a cup of frozen corn kernels into a bowl and added one cup of cooked, warm polenta to it. I added one tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to it, and mixed well. You can add more sugar or salt to taste. Let it sit for a minute to thaw out the corn. This was pretty good all by itself, but it would be the perfect complement to Mexican beans and rice.

Then I tried a breakfast recipe. Morry wrote this post about re-creating her breakfast in Utah at Em's Restaurant and that was my inspiration. To my cooked polenta I added some salt and pepper and about a quarter cup of shredded monterey jack. I laid some cooked bacon on the bottom of the plate, topped it with the cheesy polenta, and topped that with a runny cooked egg. This was so good, too. Totally different flavors than the sweet corn tomalito, but totally filling. Watch your salt on this one. The bacon is salty and depending on how much you salt your eggs you may end up with Salty Polenta City. Here's an egg cooking tip from my father-in-law who was a chef in the Navy: Coat non-stick pan with cooking spray. Heat the pan to medium heat. Add the egg, being careful not to break the yolk. When egg starts to turn white and bubble, add one tablespoon of water and cover the pan with a lid. I use a clear glass lid so I can see the egg's progress. The steam will make the whites cover over the yolk, so there is no need to flip the egg. Simply shake the pan a little to see how runny the egg yolk is under the white. Genius!

Then I tried a recipe that was actually on the back of the DeLallo Polenta box. Sometimes I find my best recipes on the back of boxes. In a large frypan, I sprayed some cooking spray, heated to medium heat and added some cut up kielbasa sausage. I browned it on both sides and added some frozen sliced red, yellow, and green peppers. I sauteed the mixture for a few minutes to thaw out the peppers. Then I took the polenta and added a pinch of salt, about two tablespoons of parmigiano-reggiano cheese and one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. I put the polenta on a plate, and simply topped with the cooked sausage and pepper mixture. Soo good! My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Again, totally different flavors carried off by that base of polenta.
I can't say which one of these I liked the best. They were all good for different meals. Polenta is so versatile, and any ingredient which could be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a thumbs-up in my book. So, next time you are at the store, look for polenta. It can be your newest gluten-free friend! Happy eating!

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