Perhaps surprisingly, I first had polenta in a college dining hall, which is definitely not the best place to try a new food. I might have eaten it when I was younger but I don’t really remember. Usually if we ate corn meal based things at home, my mom would slice the dough into rounds and fry it for breakfast, which made it much crispier than the polenta I later had in college. In the dining hall it was almost always topped with a black bean sauce and was actually one of the better things I’ve eaten at Smith. Prior to the consolidating dining/themed dining halls shift, vegetarian fare was often less than appealing. One of the few good things I can say about the many changes that have occurred at Smith in the past few years is that there is a great deal more vegetarian food available now than there was before.
Fast forward to now. I had a bunch of cornmeal sitting around the kitchen because I use it when I bake bread or make pizza, but that was about it. Then I was reading a food magazine and came across a recipe for creamy polenta. The creamy part didn’t appeal to me. I wanted something less like grits or cream of wheat and more like a patty, so I looked up some other recipes.
In the end I didn’t follow any one particular recipe, I just sort of put whatever I wanted in it, but it turned out well I think. All of the recipes called for what I thought was a huge amount of cornmeal (3+cups) and even after cutting back it still made more than I expected. I think I used a cup and a half of cornmeal, maybe 2 cups, not sure. I warmed a little bit of water in a pan on the stove and whisked the cornmeal into it. After it came to a simmer I stirred in some tomato sauce, garlic salt, and Italian seasoning. I brought it back to a simmer until the cornmeal was soft.
Next I spread it on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. It was really thick and a little tricky to spread. Then it went into the fridge to solidify while I sautéed some garlic, onions, spinach, beans, and crushed tomatoes.
When the polenta had cooled I flipped it out onto a cutting board, sliced it up, and topped it with the veggie tomato sauté. I thought it was really delicious but my roommates weren’t so keen. It did look a little weird and to be honest the texture is kind of strange at first. It does well if you fry it after slicing it or bake it in the oven with a sauce on top. I ended up eating almost all of the polenta myself over the course of a week. I was a little tired of it at the end, but it wasn’t too bad. The polenta turned out to be incredibly versatile. I put an alfredo sauce on it once, more plain tomato sauce another time, and I tried my hand at a spicy black bean sauce that was reminiscent of (but hopefully much better than!) the one I first had at Smith.
All in all I think polenta’s definitely something I’ll try again but perhaps in a much smaller batch.