Skills in The Skillet: Baked Polenta, Tomato Sauce, Guanciale & Eggs


Autumn is coming – you can feel and smell it in the air. It makes me sad that the summer is over for another year – a patchy summer at best – but I love the fact that I’ll be able to wear big jumpers and make big pots of comfort food (legitimately) again.

If you follow me regularly you’ll know how much I love polenta, how perfect then is this dish of baked polenta, topped with a rich tomato sauce, meltingly soft guanciale and eggs? So perfect that I ate the entire skillet over one day by myself. Hey, I’m just padding up for the winter…


There Will Be Stock (Part IV): Yet Another Polenta Recipe


I know what you’re thinking. You’re reading the title of this post and thinking to yourself, “another polenta recipe?! Jeez Jackie, we get it, you’re obsessed with polenta, move on with your life already,” and you’re not wrong, yes, I am obsessed with it but I’ve got a new obsession: drowning cooked polenta in layers of tomato sauce, smothering it with cheese and baking it in the oven. This, I’ve recently learned, is known as pasticciata and is a kind of lasagne with polenta instead of pasta. Oh yeah. This stuff is good.

Even better this is the last post in my series on homemade stock (which you’re probably sick of too, by now)! Polenta and homemade stock? That’s what I call perfection.


On Being Thrifty: Fried Polenta Triangles


I will be the first to admit that though following your dreams is an amazing thing to do, dreams don’t necessarily pay bills. Being freelance is hard but this is the life I chose (much to the despair of my parents) and with the good you take the bad. The exhilaration of writing up a review about a meal greatly enjoyed, say about Noma, is often counteracted with being faced with the harsh reality of some frozen peas and a stock cube for dinner.

Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration, this is me we’re talking about, after all – I always have some meat in the freezer and some arborio rice or some form of starch in the pantry; but the fact is that when you live in the city and your money comes in dribs and drabs, it can be incredibly demoralising. There have been days when I’ve opened the fridge to see only a tiny knob of butter and some old eggs, deciding that maybe that evening I’d rather just not eat.

The term ‘thrifty’ had a bit of a negative connotation attached to it when I was a child. It was grouped along with ‘stingy’ or ‘miserly’, conjuring up images of Ebeneezer-Scrooge-like characters; but these days I’ve learnt the value of thrift, particularly when it comes to store cupboard favourites being spread across many meals. So let’s talk about money, saving and let’s talk about these fried polenta triangles.


The Great Prawn Off


The other day I was wandering around the supermarket in a bit of a daze, trying to figure out what I was going to do for lunch, and I saw these beautiful little prawns. Usually I don’t like to buy fish from the supermarket because I’m not sure just how fresh it is, I’d rather buy it from the fishmonger’s, but some of the supermarkets have some fantastic stuff these days.

I love prawns but the key to cooking them is making sure that you only cook them for a couple of minutes max – nothing is worse than overcooked prawns. You want them to be pink but retain that crunch.

When I made this there was something missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then it hit me: garlic. So re-write has garlic, my one didn’t. Boo for me, yay for you. And as for it being over polenta, on the one hand it’s because I love polenta and I’d probably eat anything with it, on the other I have a vague memory of shrimp and grits? Ayway. This is awesome.


Everybody Needs More Polenta In Their Lives


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!