Recipe

Fried polenta with steamed asparagus

by Jenny Chandler

Crisp wedges of parmesan polenta with simple spring veg

If preparing the polenta for this recipe seems a lengthy business, I’d recommend cooking a double quantity and eating the first half as wet polenta to accompany a stew or ragù (much as you would mashed potato) and leaving the remaining cooked mixture to set. The set polenta will keep happily in the fridge for a couple of days.

Polenta should always be served piping hot—either as a soft fluffy mash or as crispy wedges (with soft creamy polenta within). Cold polenta will always be rubbery.

For more tips and recipes on getting the best of corn meal, read Jenny’s latest blog

Ingredients

400ml milk
250g coarse cornmeal
50g butter
50g parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp light olive oil
3-5 stalks of asparagus per person
100g parmesan cheese, in ribbons using a potato peeler, to serve
12 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or melted butter if you prefer), to serve

Method

To cook the polenta, bring the milk, 1 litre water and a good pinch of salt up to the boil in a large, heavy pot. Slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream to the liquid as it bubbles. The simplest way is to take it in handfuls and let the grains stream slowly through your fingers. Keep stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps forming, as the polenta begins to thicken after a couple of mins.

Now turn the heat down and taking a square-ended wooden spoon, stir the mixture thoroughly every 4-5 mins, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to avoid the mixture catching. It’s wise to wear long sleeves, as the polenta spits and sputters as it cooks (when I worked as a cook for an Italian family they gave me a purpose-made canvas tube to wear over my stirring arm, to protect my wrists from the lava-like splashes).

Once the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan (after about 40 mins of intermittent stirring) you can add the butter and parmesan, and plenty of black pepper (if, like me, you can’t live without it). Now you could serve your polenta piping hot as a mash-like accompaniment to a stew, or just stir in lashings of gorgonzola and top with walnuts and wilted greens.

Alternatively, you can leave the polenta to set: pour the polenta onto a greased tray and spread it out, using the wooden spoon, to about 2-3cm thick. Cover with a piece of baking paper and use your hands to press it out flat. Leave to cool.

The polenta will be firm enough to turn out onto a board and chop up after about 30 mins, or you could put it in the fridge for later use.

Cut into triangles (10 cm equilateral is perfect), fingers or whatever shape takes your fancy. Heat a frying pan with the light olive oil or another vegetable oil, and fry a few pieces of polenta at a time until crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, steam the asparagus over a pan of boiling water until it turns a vibrant green and is still quite firm (timings will depend on the thickness of your asparagus—anything between 3-8 mins).

Serve the polenta straight away with a few flakes of parmesan, the spears of asparagus and a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Recipe: Jenny Chandler