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A break from all the Christmas cooking

This time of year is busy for many people, especially those in retail and service, and us chefs, who are happily working over time to feed holiday folk. On a rare night off, the question always comes up: “what’s for dinner?” And after cooking all day, we want something quick and satisfying. That often means taking something that may have been leftover from the day before, and turning it into something new.

Our Polenta ‘Lasagna’ is just that. Polenta is an Italian ‘peasant’s’ dish of cornmeal cooked with water or milk and then finished with cheese and butter. The result is a thick and creamy porridge that is fantastic served in place of rice, potatoes or noodles with a rich stew or pasta sauce. It is quick to prepare if you purchase ‘instant’ polenta or just 30 minutes if you use regular cooking polenta. You can find packages of ‘Cornmeal for Polenta’ at any specialty grocery store, especially Vincenzo’s in Waterloo.

Now the beautiful thing about polenta is that it is almost better the next day. After the polenta is cooked and served, immediately pour the leftovers in a plastic-wrapped lined pan (a loaf pan, for instance).

Refrigerate immediately for a few hours or overnight. The polenta then firms up and can be sliced. We then fry it to a golden brown in a little butter or oil and then bake it with various sauces and cheese, as you would a lasagana.

Bring the milk, water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepot;

Take a fistful of cornmeal and add it in a fine stream to the liquid (like sifting sand through your fingers) – whisk constantly to avoid lumps;

Continue to add cornmeal this way and whisk until it is all incorporated;

Reduce the heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon frequently, about 20-30 minutes, until it is tender and thickened;

Stir in butter and parmesan and season with salt and pepper;

Enjoy immediately or pour into a plastic wrap lined pan to cool.

Basic Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal for polenta (not instant)
  • 1-2 cloves Ontario garlic, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Fried Polenta

  • 1 recipe cooked and chilled polenta
  • Canola oil
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