Polenta…healthy, fast and flexible

Polenta is one of the most versatile starches a chef can have on hand. Served soft, a well-herbed polenta can make the eyes of even the most sophisticated diner roll up in his head.  Served firm, its crunchy browned goodness adds a handsome visual accent to any entree.  Here’s a good basic recipe to get you started.

Herbed Polenta
Serves 4-6

Olive oil or cooking spray
2 scallions, whites and greens, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, minced 
1t dried basil leaves/1T fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
2 1/2C reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
3/4C fine yellow cornmeal
1/2t salt

Spray a large saucepan with cooking spray; heat over medium heat until hot. Saute the onions, garlic and basil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth and heat to a gentle boil; gradually stir in cornmeal and salt. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about ten minutes.

Pour the polenta into a lightly greases 8″ cake pan; cool to room temperature. Chill, lightly covered until polenta is firm, 3-5 hours.

Spray a large, non-stick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat until hot. Cut polenta into wedges; cook in skillet over medium heat until browned, 3-4 minutes each side.  Serve.

Options: to prepare a savory, soft version, cook the corn meal in a mixture of water and milk instead of stock (some heavy cream added here can’t hurt). Whisk constantly for 3-4 minutes to prevent lumps, then partially cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, whisking every 10 minutes or so. At this point, whisk in some creme fraiche and a handful of good-quality Parmesan cheese, adjusting the consistency with water or milk.

Another option would to be pour your prepared polenta into a cylindrical container, such as one of those plastic containers we all have stored away (tip: taller is better than wider here) and chill overnight. Fire up your grill, grill pan or George Foreman appliance,  remove the polenta from the container and cut into 3/4-1″ thick. Brush your grill with oil and grill the slices 2-3 minutes each side, until hot and well marked. Wait until you see how great this looks on your plate!

Calories: 124, Protein: 2.5, Sodium: 309 mg, Carbs: 22.4g, Fat: 1.4

Recipe: courtesy, “1,001 Delicious Recipes for People with Diabetes”
Photograph: courtesy simplyrecipes.com

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All rights reserved, 2012

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