Pan-Grilled Polenta with Blood Orange and Basil Relish

As I started to write this post, I was reminded of a game we used to play when I was a kid. You would say two words, one thing you like and one thing you don’t, and the other person would have to guess why. The things were always similar… usually even synonyms. Things like “I like yellow but I hate colors” or “I like happy but I hate glad.” The difference isn’t in the meaning, it’s in the words themselves… in this case, whether or not the words contained double letters. Did you ever play this game?

I was reminded of the game because I love polenta, but I hate grits… which I suspect has something to do with just the idea of something called grits. But polenta is divine, whether it’s served creamed, in a pudding, or perhaps my favorite, grilled up into little shapes. This recipe, inspired by a recipe in the March issue of Bon Appetit, is really simply fantastic. Actual prep time is very quick, but it does take a little time for the polenta to cool, so it’s best if you make it ahead of time and then just assemble quickly when you are ready to serve it.

If you don’t like polenta, I’d still recommend the relish… it’s quite similar to the traditional bruschetta topping of diced tomato, basil, olive oil and garlic… only with blood oranges instead of the tomatoes. I left out the garlic, but it would fit in well too. The blood oranges provide a hair more sweetness than a sweet summer tomato, so they make a great winter variation since blood oranges tend to show up in their prime when a good tomato is hard to find. In fact, it may just become my new bruschetta topping of choice!

Pan-Grilled Polenta

makes about 8 small rounds or 6 medium triangles

1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1 clove garlic, peeled and whole
1 sprig of rosemary
1/2 cup polenta corn meal
oil for frying

Combine the milk, cream, garlic and rosemary in a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for a minute or two and then remove the rosemary and garlic from the milk. Slowly add the corn meal, a little at a time, stirring constantly, until it’s all in. Reduce heat to low, and add a touch of salt. Keep stirring with a whisk or fork until the polenta thickens. Continue stirring for a bit longer. It will get really thick, and start to pull away from the pot.

Remove heat, and spread the polenta out in a casserole dish, to between 1/2 inch or 1/4 inch thick. Cover, and cool. You can keep it refrigerated like this for up to two days.

Once chilled, use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds, or simply slice into triangles, and carefully separate.

Heat enough oil to just cover the bottom of a griddle or frying pan on medium-high heat. Just before the smoking point, add the polenta pieces. Fry on each side for about 1 minute to brown. Carefully remove, and drain on a paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the pieces.

A note on oil: I have recently started using Avocado Oil for high heat cooking… it has a really nice fruitiness and holds up well to high heat. I also like Coconut Oil for frying.

To serve, top with the relish, and a few toasted pine nuts.

For an interesting spin on the pine nuts, after toasting them, toss them in a bit of salt and orange zest. The only trick is not to eat them all as you are cooking!

Blood Orange and Basil Relish

2 blood orange
8 leaves of fresh basil
2 t salad-quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Carefully segment the blood oranges, and dice the segments. Slice the basil into small strips. Then, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Refrigerate up to one day, or serve immediately.

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