I am possibly the world’s biggest advocate for polenta. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I can’t emphasise enough how great polenta is. Seriously. It’s definitely up there in my top ten foods. Now I’m not talking about the ready-made blocks of polenta you buy from the supermarket, fry up or grill and then are disgusted over how tasteless and bland it is, no. I’m talking fresh-from-the-pot-my-mama-shoulda-been-Italian-I-love-it-so-much polenta.
I like to buy my polenta from Carluccio’s because I can get a huge bag and it lasts me a long while. It is quick-cook polenta so technically not “authentic” but it’s still darn good, and it makes your life a little easier. For really authentic stuff I’d probably need to move to Italy, somehow get myself adopted into an Italian family and then learn their family polenta secrets, but in the meantime this’ll do me just fine.
The great thing about polenta is just how versatile it is. When wet it works amazingly to sop up all the delicious juices from other food, and when you’ve let it cool it hardens and then you can fry or grill it to perfection (or, if you’re feeling peckish and can’t be bothered to heat it up, just eat it as is).
Normally, the way I make it, I use a base of chicken or vegetable stock mixed with a bit of milk, then at the end add a knob of butter and a very large handful of grated parmesan cheese (Parmigianno Reggiano, not the pre-grated kind, I always use real ingredients in my cooking, not fake ones!). I then eat it with some homemade bolognese sauce (I usually make a vat of this and keep it in the freezer for quick meals, I’ll post the recipe next time I have to make one, at the moment I’ve still got a large box in the freezer!), a little more parmesan on top and some freshly torn basil leaves. Perfection. If I have any leftover (which is rare because I’m a glutton) I pour it onto a baking tray, let it cool, cut it into triangles and store it in an airtight box. Try frying it with a little olive oil in a pan until crispy (be careful, it spits quite a bit because of the nature of polenta) – it goes a real treat with a glass of white wine!
This dinner was actually a bit of an amalgamation of things that were in the freezer and fridge. I had enough polenta leftover for one meal, some chicken thighs, half a pot of tomato and mascarpone sauce, spinach and a tub of ricotta, so this was what I came up with. Stirring the ricotta through the polenta was a new one for me, but it was delicious. A great quick meal, and the polenta was amazing for soaking up the juices from the chicken and the sauce!
ITALIAN-ESQUE CHICKEN ON A BED OF SPINACH & POLENTA
Tomato & mascarpone sauce
50g quick-cook polenta
Handful of spinach
1 1/2 tbsps butter
1 tbsp ricotta
Parmesan (to finish)
Salt & pepper
Fresh basil leaves
1. Pre-heat the oven to about 200 degrees celsius. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place on a baking tray, pour over the tomato and mascarpone sauce, rip up some fresh basil leaves and sprinkle over. Put in the oven for about 25-30 mins.
2. Meanwhile, pour the water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking as you go. Turn the heat right down and let it bubble a little. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the polenta is cooked. If it looks a little too solid you can add a bit of water, or a little milk. I like to add a dash of soy milk to give it that extra creaminess.
3. Add the ricotta cheese and 1/2 tbsp of butter to the polenta and stir through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
4. In another pan place the remaining butter and quickly add the spinach, stirring until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. You could also add a little ground nutmeg if you have any – it goes really well with spinach.
5. Put the polenta on a warmed dish, then the spinach, and top with your cooked chicken. Garnish with a few whole fresh basil leaves and lightly grate a little parmesan on top of the whole dish.
6. Attack with a knife and fork and achieve perfect dinner satisfaction.
Having a dinner party tonight so depending on how embarrassed I am may or may not take photos. We shall see. I’ll be nipping back and forth between home and Uni the next few weeks as well because at the end of this week I’ll have finished with my Finals and be done with University! How exciting!
Anyway, I’m sure you’ll get some more posts from me over the next few days, so until then – peace and love.