There is a restaurant on Old Compton Street called La Polentaria that I have wanted to go to for a while now. It specialises in polenta, which I love and which I feel gets overlooked, especially here in the UK. On La Polentaria’s website they say; ‘Polenta has a rich history and is often referred to as the third pillar of Italian cuisine, nowhere more so than in the north where it is said to ‘run inside the veins’ of the people.’ It is true that polenta is so close to the hearts of many Italians and runs alongside pasta and pizza as a national dish. It has its roots in peasant cuisine, especially in Northern Italy where Italians would fill their bellies with it before going to work in the fields. Nowadays you will find polenta throughout Italy, in many different forms, depending on the region.
Polenta is a cornmeal that can be cooked in water, stock or milk depending on the recipe and can act as the carby part of a meal instead of pasta, potatoes or rice. There are a few different varieties of polenta: fine, course, white or yellow. Preparing it can be a long process if doing it the traditional way, and can involve around 50 minutes of constant stirring. I have used a quick-cook variety that you can find in Waitrose, which may not make the best polenta but is perfect for a speedy supper or lunch.
Polenta can be eaten soft, sort of like mashed potato, or it can be left to set until hard and then cut up and baked, grilled or fried. On its own it doesn’t have a strong taste so it’s all about the texture and the toppings. My mum makes a delicious polenta dish topped with a flavoursome ragu sauce… a perfect example of using it as a base for something really tasty. Another way I have eaten it is similar to bruschetta, in place of bread and topped with chopped tomatoes, basil and cheese. Here, I wanted to use it to make chips. I have seen this done before and wanted to give it a go myself. It really is a simple recipe and makes a great snack or side dish.
Baked Rosemary and Parmesan Polenta Chips
170g polenta (I used the quick-cook yellow variety)
700ml chicken stock (I used one cube and diluted it in boiling water)
5 tbsp. grated Parmesan + extra to serve
2 tsp. fresh rosemary chopped finely
1 tsp. dried thyme (can be omitted)
Bring 700ml water to the boil and then dissolve a chicken stock cube in it.
Pour the polenta in to the boiling stock from a height and stir quickly with a wooden spoon. The polenta can easily form lumps so stirring quickly, continuously and vigorously should prevent this. Stir continuously for around 8 minutes, or according to packet instructions. If you are using regular polenta it will take much longer.
Quick-cook polenta, believe it or not, really does cook very quickly so it should become a thick paste-like texture after a few minutes. You may need to add a little bit more water if you think it looks too thick but my measurements seemed to be alright. Keep stirring for around 8 minutes, scraping the polenta off the sides of the pan and making sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
When the polenta is cooked, add the rosemary, thyme, Parmesan and some salt and pepper to season to your taste. Stir and combine.
Pour the polenta in to a square dish and spread it out so that it is about 2cm deep. Put the dish in the fridge to cool and set for about an hour or overnight if you want to cook them the next day.
Once set, slice the polenta in to chunky chip shapes, mine were about 2cm by 9cm.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and grease it with olive oil. Put the chips on the lined tray and put them in the oven at 210oC for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are crispy. Then turn them over so that the bottoms can cook for another 20-25 minutes.
To serve, sprinkle them with more Parmesan.