Creamy thyme and garlic polenta with a touch of Parmigianno-Reggiano.
Boiled cornmeal wasn’t on the ‘menu’ when I was growing up. Mostly we had potatoes, and sometimes pasta and rice. When I first heard about polenta, I was skeptical. It didn’t sound appetizing. Discovering it was a side dish on four-star menus, my interest was piqued. Recently I’ve been experimenting with polenta dishes. It’s a new canvas for me but I love it, especially with pork chops. In this version, the liquid is slow steeped with thyme, garlic and chicken stock. When the meal is added to the milk mixture, the grainy cornmeal is renovated into a savory, creamy side dish permeated with flavor.
Recently I watched an episode of ’10 Dollar Dinners’ with Melissa d’Arabian. She was making a crock pot version of this boiled cornmeal dish and shared the secret of perfect polenta. She claims Scott Conant of Scarpetta’s swears by the precise ratio of liquid to cornmeal. Drum roll please…..7 to 1. Using a method where the flavors are first infused into the liquid then cooked with the cornmeal, I converted the balance of liquid to the seven/one proportion and it came out with the right creaminess. Serve it warm and soft or chill and slice for grilling or pan frying. Resist the tubes and boxes of polenta in the grocery store and make this marvelous side dish for pennies.
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Recipe: Thyme and Garlic Polenta
1 1/2 cups Milk
1/2 cup Half & Half
1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
2 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 clove Garlic, smashed
1/2 cup Polenta or Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tbsp Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 In a medium pot combine milk, cream, chicken stock, thyme and garlic. Bring to a simmer then shut off the heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
2 Strain the milk mixture to remove the thyme and garlic. Pour back into the saucepan. Gradually add the cornmeal in a slow steady stream whisking constantly. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes whisking often.
3 Add the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and stir until cheese is melted. Serve as a side to pork chops or chicken.
When entertaining, steep and strain the milk mixture a day or two ahead and keep chilled in the fridge. In the last few minutes before dinner is served, add the cornmeal to the milk mixture and cook until creamy.
• Exchange cream for Half & Half or milk.
• Exchange yellow for white cornmeal.
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Written by Helen Horton
Photography by Helen Horton