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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  • Rose

    I am not familiar at all with polenta but I love every thing that is grilled. I think it will be the best way to introduce me to’s a gorgeous picture. This dish will go very well with my blood oranges macarons.

  • Linda, The Village Vegetable

    Lara –

    I’ve yet to have polenta actually. I can’t wait to try this recipe though. Congrats on your mag debut. These photos are beautiful as usual. Also, just a heads up, I’m nominating your blog for the Thinking Blog Award… so please check out my tid bit about you and your work later today (it should be up by then! — still making the last changes on the post).


  • Mary

    I love word games, but I like polenta even more. These pictures are gorgeous – as usual. Congratulations on the magazine spread.

  • peabody

    I like polenta and I like grits…sign me up either way.

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  • mary

    I love polenta. One of the Italians many great uses of starch. The orange basil relish sounds so refreshing! (Would also be good with some mint thrown in, I think…) Looks great, as always.

  • Freya

    First time on your site, I love it! The polenta pictures are beautiful!

  • almost vegetarian

    Actually, despite the fact that half my family is Italian, I loathe polenta. So I’ll skip that part of the recipe (to my detriment, I am sure). But, as much as I hate polenta, I adore blood oranges and that relish looks like something I could, erm, relish. Must try. Will try! Thanks.

  • Sophie

    You can’t not eat the pinenuts as you go :-) These do look lovely though – I’m tempted to give the polenta another go. It always comes out horrible and soggy when I make it!

  • veron

    I’ve never made pan-grilled polenta, but it looks like a great idea!

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  • Janet

    I too hate grits but love polenta!! Your photos are luscious and I must try the blood orange relish. My favorite way to have polenta is to grill it and serve it with sage cream.


  • Ari (Baking and Books)

    Honestly, I feel like reading your blog is similar to flipping through a great food magazine.

    Polenta is one of our favorite things to eat. It’s easy to make and there are so many delicious sauces and toppings you can serve with it!

  • Shannon

    Oh wow, I know what I am cooking this weekend! It looks and sounds amazing. It will be a great start to my spring break. :) And the best part…it is naturally gluten free, so I won’t have to modify the recipe. Yay!

  • LV

    Oh my god… I don’t know whart’s better, the recipe or your photos. I almost took a bite of the screen… great site, great recipes.

  • Nicky

    Hi Lara,

    In fact pan-grilled polenta is the only way I really enjoy polenta… 😉 To team it up with blood oranges sounds yummy!

  • Christine (myplateoryours)

    Blood oranges are so beautiful, and you really do them justice!

  • iamchanelle

    so delicious! and so pretty, as are all of your pics. i had a bad experience with polenta not setting prior to frying and have shied away from that since. your recipe might just bring me back.
    and i did not know avocado oil even existed – i am very intrigued!

  • leigh ann

    i learned the double letter puzzle when i was in jr. high school in iowa. a fun ‘parlor’ game. my version always led with “she’s odd, but not peculiar. and she dearly loves mississippi.”

    and i dearly love polenta. i know that relish is going to be delish.

  • Snehal

    ooooh I have the same wooden dishes!! aren’t they lovely. I absolutley loved your pine-nuts and orange zest idea, crunchy with a zingy flavour, nice indeed!

  • j bird

    I wish that there was a place to signup and get email from this site.

  • Dawn

    Oh Wow the blood orange and basil relish is amazing!!!!

  • Jeannie Rose Field

    Looks fabulous! I’ll definitely try that next time I make polenta. See my blog for a few more ideas:

  • Joe

    Hello, Cool Idea. I just made polenta a few days ago with Gorgonzola cheese and heavy cream. It was pretty darn good so if you have time come check it out and let me know what you think.

  • Grilling Planks

    I have tried Pan-Grilled Polenta but I have never tried it with Blood Orange and Basil Relish. I will have to try that this weekend.