Sunday, October 28, 2012

Polenta Squares with Sweet & Sour Onion Relish

We had dinner at Singer’s house this past Wednesday.  We welcomed Architect home and we also welcomed Fall devouring delicious Polenta Squares with Sweet and Sour Onion Relish and Butternut Squash soup.

We were all so excited to see Architect and delighted in the photos she shared from her trip.  She was exhausted after her 24+ hour journey home but did a great job narrating each photo.  I liked the stories about the people and animals….she said that elephants are the sweetest creatures and, somehow, I always knew that about elephants.  I’ve never touched one, but always wanted to…maybe when I travel over 7500 miles, I’ll get my chance!  Anyway, Architect and Mr. Architect were kind enough to share some photos that I thought you would enjoy:

Golden Temple

Annapura, South from Ghorepani


Elephant Taxis, Beer

The All-Seeing Eyes of Budda

A Sweet Elephant

Back to Polenta.

Polenta is corn meal that, in earlier times, was more commonly known as gruel or porridge.  Polenta is cooked by simmering the grain in a disproportionate amount of water or broth, often with herbs.  Once set, polenta can be shaped into balls or squares, then baked or fried and topped with all kinds of goodies such as meat, cheese, tossed into soups, or, for a sweeter indulgence, topped with fruit.  Polenta, like oats, requires a long time and lots of stirring to cook, typically simmering for 45 minutes.  But, also like oats, quick-cooking alternatives that can be prepared in just minutes are available.

Some shy away from making Polenta because of the frequent stirring involved.  So, I did a little research into preparation options….sans the drudgery. says “put the basic recipe in a slow cooker. Cook on low over night (at least about 6 hours). In the morning you will have the smoothest, creamiest polenta.”  Another option "prepare the polenta exactly as before, but once you've drizzled the corn flour into the boiling water, cover it with brown paper (a grocery paper bag is fine), clamp the pot lid on, move to the back burner and turn the heat to very low. After the statutory 40 minutes the polenta is ready - with no stirring.”

I have not tried either method, but when I do, I will report back.

Polenta Squares with Sweet and Sour Onion Relish  
Adapted slightly from Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

1 ½ half cups of coarse-ground cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill Polenta Corn Grits)
Note:  you can alter the amount of cornmeal to produce a creamier or firmer polenta
6 cups of water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
A pinch of baking soda
4 ounces of Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons of butter -unsalted

Bring water to boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir in salt and baking soda.  Slowly pour in cornmeal into water in a steady stream, while with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Bring to boil, stirring consistently to produce a smooth consistency.   Bring heat to lowest possible heat.  Cover, for 5 minutes, and then whisk polenta to smooth out any lumps that may have formed.  Scrape sides and bottom of pan.  Cover and continue to cook for 20 minutes until quite thick and the polenta peels away from the side of the pot.  Continue to stir from time to time.  When finished, pour into baking pan or sheet to cool in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  Cut polenta into squares and place on a cookie sheet that has been greased with olive oil or canola oil spray.  Drizzle with Extra Virgin olive oil, and top each square with Sweet and Sour Onion Relish, cheddar cheese, and walnuts.   Broil for 3-4 minutes until reheated and cheese melts.

Sweet and Sour Onion Relish

1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon of butter
2 sliced red onions
4 sprigs of thyme
Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon of Brown Sugar
6 ounces of Sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup of toasted Walnuts

Heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat, add onions, thyme, salt and cook until beginning to brown and caramelize 5 to 7 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add water, balsamic, brown sugar and continue to simmer until liquid has evaporated and onions are glossy -- 7 minutes more.  Discard thyme, and season with salt and pepper. 

It was my turn to bring a salad and, totally unaware of the root vegetable gig Singer had going on, I roasted beets with olive oil, orange peel and herbs and tossed the jeweled beauties into an arugula and goat cheese salad….so good.   Foodie brought homemade macaroons…YUM!

I’ll post the Butternut Squash soup in a few days since it’s likely we’ll be housebound courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.

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