I always grew up on polenta in its uncongealed form. My dad would make it as a quick breakfast, throwing in a dab of butter and pairing it with a side of scrambled eggs. Polenta was our household version of grits.
When my friend came over to make this polenta recipe with me, he was surprised to see a mushy mixture cooking away on the stove. “What’s that?” he asked. I told him it was polenta, assuming he had never eaten this version of ground corn before. But I was wrong.
“That’s polenta? Shouldn’t it be sticking together?” I began to realize that today, most people are exposed to polenta in its caked form. Either in its tubed shape you can grab at the grocery store, or the little circles that the lonely few restaurants will occasionally feature, polenta is almost always served as a pan-fried or baked slab, with maybe a topping or two to go with it.
For some unexplainable reason, polenta doesn’t appear to be a common item in most households or restaurants around where I live, which is why a lot of people are unfamiliar with its pre-caked form. However, I enjoy it either way, each lending a slightly different epicurean experience. If for some reason you decide not to crisp this polenta up, I recommend adding a dab of butter to your bowl before consuming. It will just add a touch of richness that will draw out the creaminess of the polenta. However, if you have the time (or the leftovers), I definitely recommend the pan-fried version too. It makes a great meal for any meal of the day.
- -3/4 cup polenta + 2 1/2 cups water
- -1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
- -3 small-medium shallots, about 3 oz., diced
- -3 cloves garlic, minced
- -8 oz. baby portobellos, sliced
- -5 oz. spinach (About 2 cups)
- -1 tsp. thyme
- -1/2 tsp. salt
- -1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or slightly less if you don't like a little kick)
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high. Saute garlic, shallots and mushrooms until shallots are translucent. Stir in thyme, salt and crushed red pepper flakes, and saute another minute.
- Add polenta and 3 cups water. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, and cook 20-25 minutes, or until polenta is tender and water is absorbed. Stir in spinach and cook another 3 minutes, until spinach is wilted and tender.
- Remove from heat, and place polenta in refrigerator until mixture begins to firm. Once mixture is firm, use hands to begin shaping into circular cakes.
- Heat non-stick frying pan over high heat. Melt 1 - 2 Tbsp. of butter in pan. Add cakes, two at a time, and cook 4-5 minutes on each side, or until outsides of cakes are brown and crispy. Remove from heat and serve.