Polenta Squares

Polenta = day old grits

I’ve discovered that my beloved definition, although it appeals to my Southern sensibility, is dead wrong. The Anson Mills site explains that the two foods, nearly indistinguishable to all but  the most experienced palates, are ground from different varieties of corn, dent and flint:

Corn is classified by the type of starch (endosperm) in its kernels. The premier mill corn of the American South, known as dent (the name derives from the dent that forms on the top of each kernel as it dries), has a relatively soft, starchy center. Dent corn makes easy work of milling–it also makes phenomenal grits.

Flint corn, by contrast, has a hard, starchy endosperm and produces grittier, more granular meal that offers an outstanding mouthfeel when cooked. One type of American flint–indigenous to the Northeast–was, and remains, the traditional choice for Johnny cakes. In Italy, flint has been the preeminent polenta corn since the 16th century when Spanish and Portuguese treasure hunters brought Caribbean flint to the Piedmont on ships.

This wasn’t my only discovery in this recipe experiment. My attempts to pan fry chunks of the polenta loaf were in vain; the resulting mush was delicious but formless. I kept the shape and got the crust I was after by cranking up the broiler, but if anyone has any suggestions for a stovetop technique, do share it!

Polenta

2 cups broth*

1 cup water

1 cup corn meal

Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 – 2 cups chopped veggies (peppers, onion, mushrooms, etc.)**

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 – 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, canned crushed tomatoes, or jarred tomato sauce

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Bring the broth to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until the polenta thickens, about 5 minutes. Pour the polenta into a greased dish. Cover and let stand at room temperature until set, about 15 minutes. Cut the polenta into squares, top with grated mozzarella, and place under the broiler to toast and melt cheese.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and saute until the juices evaporate, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic. Add the tomatoes and decrease the heat to medium-low, simmer till heated through and all veggies are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.  Season to taste with more salt and pepper and/or hot sauce.

Serve the cheesy polenta planks topped with the sauce.

*I used stock made from the bone in a roasted pork shoulder

**I used roasted veggies that I keep on hand in the fridge

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Birthday Lasagna

I’m sure being at my beck and call as photo assistant and hand model was my youngest sister’s #1 choice of ways to celebrate her birthday.  Since the lasagna was a whopping success, perhaps she’ll forgive this latest bout of harassment.

Happy birthday Brenna.

Chicken Broccoli Alfredo Lasagna

4 Tablespoons Butter

4 Tablespoons Flour

2 cups Whole Milk

1 cup Chicken Stock

1-½ cups Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

1-½ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

Pepper

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves Garlic, Minced

1 Small Onion, Finely Chopped

1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning

2-½ cups Broccoli Florets

2 cups Cooked Shredded Chicken*

4 cups Ricotta Cheese

1-½ cups Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded

1 egg

Box Oven Ready Lasagna Noodles

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.

2. Place a large sauce pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook it for about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and chicken stock and bring the sauce up to a bubble. Add in the nutmeg and season it with black pepper and nutmeg. Simmer until the sauce thickens, 3-4 minutes. Add Parmesan.

3. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan. Add onion, garlic, broccoli, and Italian seasoning. Cook on medium-high for about 1 minute until vegetables are tender. Add chicken.*

4. In another bowl, mix the ricotta, mozzarella, egg, and pepper to taste.

5. Ladle a small amount of the white sauce into a 13×9 casserole dish. Line lasagna noodles on the bottom over the sauce. Add 1/3 of the veggie/meat mixture over the noodles, spread 1/2 of the cheese mixture, and ladle 1 cup of sauce. Repeat until all ingredients are used (total of 3 layers). Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 20-30 (until lightly browned and cheese is bubbly). Let the lasagna sit for about 10 minutes to cool before serving.

 

*Note: I used a pack of chicken quarters that I baked at 375° F until done (about 45 minutes). I sautéed the onion/broccoli mixture in some of the chicken pan drippings instead of olive oil.