WE WERE SCHEDULED to be gardening, but even my trusty helper Susan and I were not in the mood, thanks to 30’s and sleet. Let’s cook while we wait, we said—but what do I have to work with? Friday’s pantry lunch: crispy polenta cakes that incorporated on-hand onions, carrots, garlic and bleu cheese. Delicious, easy, yet special enough for company (not just two chilled gardeners happily avoiding their chores).
savory polenta cakes with crispy onions
(The polenta can be made and formed well ahead, then finished in the sauté pan at mealtime.)
- 6 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 1 large carrot (or more), grated
- bleu cheese crumbles, about ½ cup (more or less to taste)
- grated garlic to taste (start with 2 cloves)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional amount to sauté the onions)
- onions, cut into slender rings, for topping
- flour, enough to toss and coat the raw onion rings
- Bring the salted water to a boil.
- Add cornmeal, stirring until thickened.
- Add the grated carrot, garlic, cheese and the olive oil; combine well.
- Pour the mixture into ramekins or into a square or rectangular baking dish,to about a 1-inch thickness, and smooth the top of the mixture. We had slightly more than would fit in a 9-by-9-inch Pyrex pan, so we made a couple of ramekins, too.
- Allow to set thoroughly (we refrigerated it to speed the process).
- Meantime, slice onions into thin rings, tossing in enough flour to coat lightly.
- Saute flour-dredged onions to brown well; drain on paper towels.
- Turn out the “cakes” from the ramekins, or cut the polenta block into squares (or triangles).
- Fry the cakes in a small amount of olive oil until the top and bottom are nicely crisp (below). A well-seasoned cast-iron pan or a nonstick skillet means less oil.
- Garnish when serving with the crispy onions.
- Some cooks prefer butter to olive oil in the polenta, or a mix.
- The cakes could also be lightly oiled and then grilled, or put under the broiler.
- Add fresh chopped herbs such as a little parsley or thyme.
- Use parmesan or another hard grating cheese, or goat cheese, instead of the bleu.
- Garnish finished cakes with parmesan before serving (yes, it’s delicious even with bleu cheese already inside).
- Grate an extra carrot to garnish the finished cakes.
- Serve on a bed of greens.