I enjoy a good mushroom ragu or meaty bolognese with creamy polenta as much as the next person, but sometimes I don’t want my starch to be just creamy–I want it to have a little crunch and personality. That’s where twice-cooking comes in. Almost any starchy item can have a second life if you add a little extra oil and a hot surface. Form little cylinders out of cooked risotto or mashed potatoes and fry them in olive oil. Toss leftover cooked spaghetti noodles with eggs and cooked bacon and bake. Or, in this case, chill cooked polenta until firm, then cut into squares and grill or fry until crisp and golden.
I really like the stony flavor of the cornmeal, especially when topped with sticky, unctuous complements like caramelized onions, honey and the salty tang of crumbled goat cheese. This is a delicious side dish for almost any meal, but I have to admit I would also eat this all by itself for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s that good. This recipe is based on one I found on Food52.
Note: For the best results, cook the polenta at least one day in advance so it has time to firm up in the refrigerator before you cut and grill it.
Grilled polenta cakes
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
2 cups milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced in half moons
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
about 2 tablespoons honey, divided
Method: Cook the polenta. Bring the milk and water just to a boil (keep an eye on it or the milk will bubble over).
Whisk in the polenta, butter, salt and pepper. Keep whisking for 2-3 minutes until it thickens. Lower the heat, and switch to a wooden spoon. Keep stirring slowly until the polenta is quite thick, another 2 minutes or so. Remove from the heat, and let cool.Spread the polenta evenly in a 9-inch by 9-inch baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and slide into the refrigerator to set up. (Ideally, give it at least 8 hours to firm up before cutting and grilling.)
For the onions, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over to medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and a good pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until soft, golden, and caramelized, about 35 to 40 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water every 10 minutes or so to prevent the onions from burning. Once they’ve achieved a deep caramel color, remove them from the heat and set aside.
Shortly before you’re ready to eat, remove the polenta from the refrigerator and cut 6 even-size squares. Heat the grill to medium high, and grease it with a little canola oil or nonstick cooking spray. Add the polenta cakes to the grill, and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until they’re crusty and grill-marked on both sides. Note: Resist the urge to mess with them once you place them on the grill, or else they’ll tear.
To assemble, place a polenta cake on a plate, add about 1 tablespoon of caramelized onions to each cake, top each with an ounce of crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle with 1 teaspoon honey. Serves 6 as a side dish.