Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce
I was kind of shocked by last week’s poll winner. Not sure why but I just didn’t expect polenta to make a huge wave. I guess that’s because I always assume that people underestimated polenta’s potential.
The voting Macheesmo readers seem to be intrigued by it though. And I must say that I was also. I’ve never cooked polenta like this before so this was all new territory for me. This was my final result!
Making the polenta
I was really impressed with the method of making this polenta, but I have to admit that the flavor was a bit lacking for me. I think if I made it again, I’d add some chopped herbs or maybe some jalapenos or maybe even bacon to it to kick it up a notch. It kind of, well, tasted like cornmeal.
Prepare Polenta one day in advance of serving.
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) In baking dish, combine water, olive oil, and salt. Slowly whisk in cornmeal.
3) Bake this at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
4) Remove dish from oven, add a fair amount of pepper and then stir it all together. Make sure that it all has an even consistency. Use a whisk to spread out.
5) Bake another 50 minutes to an hour in the oven to get thick, stirring every 20 minutes to make sure the polenta is evenly distributed.
6) After the second hour, pull it out and smooth over the polenta with a spatula so it is nice and smooth.
7) Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it becomes very firm.
Prepare sauce the day of serving.
1) Blend a cup of your tomatoes with pine nuts.
2) Heat oil in a large pan and then add onions, garlic, fennel seed and red pepper.
3) Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
4) Add the rest of your crushed tomatoes, the wine, the oregano, pine nut and tomato puree, and half of the basil. Stir this all together and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.
5) Cut polenta into triangles.
6) Heat up a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When it’s hot, add your polenta. Brown each side 7 minutes or until crispy.
7) Serve the polenta with sauce!
If you haven’t made polenta before, it starts with a coarse cornmeal. You can buy this at most supermarkets these days I think. If you can’t find it, you can definitely substitute normal yellow cornmeal.
The one thing about this recipe is that it calls for a 15X10X2 glass baking dish. Turns out I don’t have one of those which I only noticed right before I was getting ready to cook. I just used my normal 13X9 baking dish. After it was combined and cooked for a bit, I took out 1 cup of kind of cooked polenta from my dish so it didn’t end up too thick.
To start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In your baking dish, combine your water, olive oil, and salt. Then slowly whisk in your cornmeal. It’s not really important at this point that everything is mixed perfectly. It will be very watery – basically a soup.
This was mine:
Bake this at 350 degrees for 1 hour. If you’re using the wrong size dish, like I did, you can either go with extra thick polenta or scoop out a bit at this point. When your dish comes out of the oven, add a fair amount of pepper and then stir it all together. Make sure that it all has an even consistency. I used a whisk to spread mine out.
This will most likely need another 50 minutes to an hour in the oven to get thick enough, but at this point, pull it out after every 20 minutes and stir it again to make sure the polenta is evenly distributed.
After the second hour, pull it out and smooth over the polenta with a spatula so it is nice and smooth. Then let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it becomes very firm.
The Day Before
If you are halfway competent at math, you might notice that we are at 4 hours total time just for making the polenta right now. So guess what… do that the night before you actually want to eat the stuff. In fact, you could do it a few days in advance if you wanted, just store it in the fridge until you need it. If you are making the polenta the same day you intent to eat the dinner, you should probably plan for a weekend unless you like a LATE dinner.
This sauce is actually pretty straightforward for a tomato sauce and even though it’s labeled as “spicy” I doubled the amount of red pepper in my version and it was still only mildly spicy.
Anyway, you’ll need to start with some onions, garlic, red pepper, and the secret ingredient: fennel seed. It’s a subtle thing that you can leave out if you don’t have any on hand.
To start, take a cup of your tomatoes and blend them up with the pine nuts. I was a bit skeptical on this step and you could skip it, but it ensures that the pine nuts are really smoothly incorporated in the sauce which is nice.
You’ll also need a bunch of basil!
Start by heating your oil in a large pan and then add your onions, garlic, fennel seed and red pepper. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Then add the rest of your crushed tomatoes, the wine, the oregano, your pine nut and tomato puree, and half of your basil. Stir this all together and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. It should reduce slightly and smell lovely. Be sure to taste it for salt and pepper. It’ll probably need a good pinch of both.
Searing the polenta
As your sauce simmers, you can get your polenta ready. After a long night in the fridge, it should be very firm. I cut mine into triangles, but you could do whatever shape you wanted. Chop up the pieces you need and stick the rest back in the icebox!
It’s important to sear the polenta because it takes on almost a slimy quality as it sets up. Some high heat in a pan transforms the mild sliminess into a very crispy exterior.
Heat up a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When it’s hot, add your polenta. You’re looking for a very crispy and slightly browned crust. Mine needed about 7 minutes per side to get really nice and crispy.
Then serve the polenta over a nice portion of the sauce!
I’d never really had a dish like this before and it was definitely interesting. It was almost like a pasta dish but instead of pasta there was these hearty polenta slices. My only complaint was that the polenta, on its own, was a bit bland. There just wasn’t a lot of flavor to it.
I should’ve went with my gut and spiced it up a bit, but you can benefit from my mistake! If you make this, experiment with the polenta flavors. The texture is spot on, but it needs some help getting to Flavortown.