16 May 2011

A semi-successful venture into Polenta

With that curious sensation in one's stomach that only a true foodie would recognise, (being excitement at using a new ingredient, nerves in case it all goes wrong, more nerves in case nobody likes it and even more nerves, well, just because), I got cracking with trying the family out on wet polenta.

I made sure that I would have time and attention span to deal with the polenta, by pairing it with a dead easy chicken dish - Parmesan chicken.  This is basically nothing more than a chicken breast dunked in egg white, then into grated parmesan with freshly ground black pepper - and popped into the oven to roast.  For something so simple, it really is lovely.

So!  On to the polenta problem.  I had heeded the accumulated wisdom of various Italian cooks and as such, opted for the "polenta with blue cheese & small amounts of green stuff" version.

The first quandary was what stock to use.  Home-made chicken stock, or vegetable stock from a cube?  Home-made chicken is my favourite, but I was nervous of it becoming too chickeny, when it was going to have a huge hunk of blue cheese melted through it later on.  So, in view of this, I opted for the vegetable.  In retrospect, I think perhaps the chicken would have been good, as it wouldn't have contained half as much salt as the stock cube did!

The recipe said to add a crushed clove of garlic to the stock and allow it to infuse for 2-3 minutes and then remove it.  We must have super-duper garlic, or something, because even on 2 minutes, there was too much garlic!  (I know, there will be several of you throwing your hands in the air and exclaiming "too much garlic? There's no such thing!" - but for us, there can be).  So if you're garlic-sensitive, I'd skip this bit - and will do in future.

I'd also had a bit of a quandary over the blue cheese, in relation to the overall price of the thing.  The chicken had cost £3, add to that the cost of the parmesan, then £2 for Gorgonzola ... the overall price seemed to be creeping into the expensive bracket.  So, I opted for a £1 piece of French blue cheese of unknown origin.  It was soft, and vaguely sweet, with a lovely salty tang - so I figured it would do.  It did, indeed, do.  Very nicely!

I was lucky with the polenta itself, as I'd had some for ages - since we started cooking Cornbread (which I love).  However, having looked on the packet the best before date was some time in 2010.  ~cough~  Oh well, it was too late to get any more by then - and I'd used it quite recently to put on roast potatoes, so I figured we wouldn't die.

I also had some baby spinach in the fridge that needed using up, so substituted that for the rocket that the recipe demanded.  Personally, I think it was even nicer with the little crunch that the spinach gave.

A couple of things struck me when I was cooking the polenta dish, which were - firstly, my goodness but doesn't it thicken quickly!  I had to use twice the amount of liquid that was stated in the recipe, before it would become anywhere close to the right consistency.  Another thing, is that it is quite impossible for me to pour in a steady stream, while whisking like mad.  I can pour in a whisk-like circle whilst whisking like mad if you like - but then, I've never been able to pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time, either. 

Lastly, I was surprised at the difference the lemon juice made to the dish.  Before adding the juice, the polenta was creamy and quite tasty.  You could taste the individual flavours of the polenta, the stock, the blue cheese and the spinach.  After the inclusion of the lemon juice - bingo!  It all came together as a cohesive whole.  Who'd have thought it!

Hubby’s initial opinion was *gasp!* and *gag!*, followed by “euk!” and “hmmmn”.  Which didn’t bode well at all.

Son & heir’s initial reaction was “have you tried this stuff, Mum?”, whilst looking extremely doubtful.

Well, of course I’d tried it – after all, I’d cooked it so I was bound to have tried it one way or another!  I quite liked it.  It was too salty, as between the stock cube and the cheese, they had delivered quite an accumulated load.  I really liked the cheese and I had no objections to the texture.  I did agree with hubby though, that the garlic was way too much.

Once hubby could speak, he voiced his objections to the polenta as being mainly rooted in the over-saltiness and the garlic excess that didn’t really sit well with the blue cheese.  He didn’t have any objections to the texture, which I was surprised about, and would countenance another go with maybe some polenta that was at least in date, this time.

I don’t know – some people just want the moon on a stick.  *chuckle*
Based on a recipe by Paul Merrett.

Ingredients :

570ml vegetable or chicken stock (I used around 900ml, so have some extra just in case!)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed (optional - see above!)
half a tsp of dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
150g quick-cook polenta
50g unsalted butter (note the UNsalted)
handful of fresh rocket or spinach leaves
200g Gorgonzola or other melting blue cheese, cut into cubes
1 lemon, juice only.

Method :

1.  Bring the stock to the boil in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat.

2.  If you're using it, add the crushed garlic to the stock and allow to infuse for 2-3 minutes before removing it and discarding.  Add the thyme.  Season to taste.

3.  Add the polenta to the hot stock in a thin, steady stream.  Whisk immediately and continue whisking as it cooks for 2-3 minutes to avoid any lumps.  The texture will be of mashed potato when cooked.

4.  Add the butter and stir to combine.

5.  Add the cubed cheese and stir to combine until it has melted through the polenta.

6.  Add the rocket or spinach and allow to wilt, then add the lemon juice and give everything a last stir.




  1. Brilliant Jenny......Absolutely Brilliant....!
    Looks the business.....Tastes as good as it looks,
    you've crack it....Lovely. Well done you....!
    Polenta is not an easy thing to do, although the instructions, if you follow them, are....Great. :).

  2. Hi Jenny on my blog I have one recipe of Polenta have look jest serch for polenta con baccala (cod)

  3. Thanks Willie! As I say, it was only semi-successful, but it's unlikely that a first go at something is ever going to be spot on the first time.

    Thanks, Andrea! I'll pop along and have a look. :)

  4. Do you know, polenta is something I've never got around to cooking with but having read this I might just have to give it a go!


  5. Well, the way I figure it Seren, is that all those people out there who say it is nice, can't ALL be wrong! LOL

  6. I've got a big packet of polenta sitting in the cupboard, left over from an orange and polenta cake last year. I've never quite had the courage to face doing something with it.

    I did have a rather lovely grilled slab of polenta at a cafe once, but I wouldn't have to clue where to start creating that.

  7. Aha! Well, you just cook the polenta to the mashed potato stage (with the addition of any herbs, or stock or other flavourings) then pour it into a flat dish and let it cool, whereupon it sets. You can then slice it into slabs and bung 'em on the barbecue, chargrill pan or just plain old under the grill. I've never done it, but it sounds incredibly easy!


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