You know that thing in your kitchen cupboard that's been there forever? That box or jar of some ingredient that you've been meaning to try but have never quite built up the courage? For me, this is a box of polenta that I bought like a year ago. I tweeted yesterday how polenta reminds me of college. Let me explain. (Oh, and Brits, when I say "college", I mean "university"...) So I was not a very adventurous eater when I started college (at nyu). But that quickly changed when I was shoved out of my comfort zone and forced to live with three other girls, all of whom came from completely different backgrounds. This was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. We were lucky enough to have a small kitchen in our dorm, and we cooked sometimes. But the school cafeteria (the closest one to our Union Square dorm, anyway) actually served decent food! And it was here that I first tasted fried polenta and became mildly obsessed. It is a WONDERFUL meat or even pasta substitute - especially when topped with some tomato sauce. When I got my first apartment all to myself in San Diego, I kept one of those polenta tubes in my cupboard at all times. They are so simple to cook - a little slice and fry action, and you've got yourself the basis of a good meal.

Then I moved to London and forgot all about it. I picked up a box absentmindedly, not realizing that it's not quite the same as the tubed variety. It turns out I had bought a box of the instant stuff (way easier), but I thought it was the basic cornmeal that would take a lifetime to get the hang of and required a precise amount of water and cheese and time and patience. Dodged THAT bullet!

So last night, the polenta was back on the menu. Phil had never tried it before, putting a ton of pressure on me. But it turns out he enjoyed it very much - now I just need to perfect my frying skills and make it perfectly brown and crispy on the outside.

Pan Fried Polenta

Using instant polenta, served with steamed broccoli, spinach, and homemade pasta sauce

The particulars:

  1. Combine about a cup of polenta with 3 cups of water in a saucepan. This will make 3 servings, by the way. Turn on the heat and start stirring.
  2. Continue to stir while it cooks and thickens for about 5 minutes. At this point, turn the heat off and immediately transfer the polenta to a flat baking tray. Spread it out with a wooden spoon to the desired thickness.
  3. Leave to set for a few minutes. After 5-10 minutes, check on it. You should be able to slice it, pick it up with your hands, flip it... all without it breaking into bits.
  4. Pan-fry with a little oil for a few minutes on either side until browned and crispy. Serve with pasta sauce, veggies... the choice is yours!

And here is Phil's "Tricolore" for you (with fresh mozzarella on top):