(Serves 6-7 as an entrée)
Once you start exploring beyond the wheat-diary duo overemphasized in most American diets, gluten and dairy-free friendly carbohydrates come in many forms. The ancient polenta strain of corn has been cultivated in Italy for centuries, and this ancient grain shows a versatile and flexible flavor profile that lends itself to a variety of combinations. The usual note that cooks play with polenta is to add a bunch of cheese and sometimes cream, but this is often an easy play that is not necessary. This recipe boosts the corn flavor inherent in the polenta by adding in spices that build the flavor from the ground up and infuse the grain with a round, simultaneous sharp and mouth-pleasing depth.
This recipe will give you enough polenta to make about 20 small cakes. For a dinner side dish, I like to serve three cakes per person, but you can certainly adjust this to fit your dining style. If you would like to reserve some of the polenta cakes for another meal, simply leave them in the dish after cutting and cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper. While you need to plan ahead about a night before to cool the polenta so that it solidifies before you roast it in the oven, the cakes last for quite some time, and depending on the group you serve, can be used for multiple meals. The cakes should last about five days in the refrigerator, and while they can be oven roasted in the manner described in the recipe below, they can also be simply eaten cold (at step 11) or gently warmed in the oven or a pan.
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Serrano pepper, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
3 tablespoons brown sesame seeds
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1. Combine the above ingredients in a large, heavy bottom pot.
2. Turn heat on medium low and gently heat to bloom out and slightly toast the mixture—you want to heat the ingredients until they are aromatic and slightly simmering, add the polenta, and then follow with the water.
2 cups polenta, rinsed in a fine mesh strainer (this removes unwanted starch from the corn fragments)
8 cups water (I preferred to use reverse osmosis water)
2 teaspoons sea salt
3 tablespoons smoky paprika powder
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper (grind it fresh for this recipe)
1 tablespoon sage, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons +_ to coat a glass dish to cool the polenta, and 3 tablespoons to roast the polenta in step 12
3. Constantly stir the polenta on medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer, then turn it down to low. You really need to stir it consistely, like every 1-3 minutes at this phase, or you might burn the polenta to the bottom of the pan.
4. Add in the smoky paprika, sea salt, and black pepper and stir until all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed.
5. Throughout the cooking process, you need to stir polenta, so do not wander too far from the stove for more 2-4 minutes. See the video here for a demonstration on how to stir the polenta: https://youtu.be/FRrB8AT89lY
6. After about an hour of cooking, add in the herbs.
7. Cook the polenta for about 1.5 hours total. Taste the polenta to ensure that there are no hard corn fragments; if there are hard fragments, continue to cook the polenta until they are slightly soft.
8. Spread a thin layer of olive oil on the base and sides of a large, preferably rectangular, glass baking dish. Then scoop the polenta out into the baking dish and spread it evenly against the dish. If you do not have a large baking dish, divide the polenta into small glass dishes, but aim for about 2 inches of height for the polenta in each pan.
9. Refrigerate the polenta overnight so that it forms into a solid mass.
10. The next day or so, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. With a sharp knife, cut the polenta in the baking dish into about 20 small rectangular pieces. This recipe yields a significant amount of polenta, so decide how much you want to cook and you can always use the rest for another meal later in the week.
12. Place the polenta cakes in a well-oiled baking dish. The amount of oil you use will depend on how many polenta cakes you cook and the size of the dish, but aim for a shallow fry that covers about a ¼ of each cake. Place the polenta cakes in the oven.
13. Cook the polenta cakes on eachside for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Start cooking the cakes with the side that was in contact with the baking dish in the refrigerator facing upwards and the other facing up: this will help dry out the moister side before you fry it.
14. Once the cakes are browned, place them briefly on a paper towel to drain the oil, and then plate. Garnish with fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or chive.