Polenta, the creamy cornmeal-based Italian staple, has been a popular side dish in my house from the time my kids were in highchairs. I would pour the molten hot cooked polenta onto a cutting board, let it cool and solidify, then cut it up into tiny cubes. Those cubes made for plenty of entertainment as my babies would focus on picking them up and guiding them, often unsuccessfully, into their mouths. When food qualifies both as delicious and a hand-eye coordination exercise, you know you’ve found a winner.
Now they’re teenagers and their food-to-mouth success rate is pretty much 100 percent, but one thing hasn’t changed: their love for polenta. Over the years, I thought I’d covered all the culinary bases in terms of how to make polenta. I’ve poured steaming Parmesan-scented polenta onto platters and topped with any number of sauces, sautéed vegetables and roasted meats. I’ve sautéed and baked firm slices of chilled polenta until they were golden and crispy. I’ve even made some of the most incredible cakes out of polenta.
One intriguing use for this versatile dish is polenta pizza. I ran across the idea in an article I was reading on gluten-free cooking. Although no one in my household requires a gluten-free diet, I thought my family would love it, and I was right.
The key is getting the crust to set up and get a little on the crunchy side. This is done by first using a lower ratio of water to cornmeal than typically called for in other polenta recipes. Then it needs to be spread out on an oiled baking sheet (don’t line with parchment paper, as you won’t get the desired texture), and pre-baked in a hot oven.
How you top it is up to you. I like to sauté baby greens with a generous amount of garlic and a dash of red pepper, and add those to the traditional marinara sauce and cheese topping. It’s a good way to get kids to be a little more enthusiastic about eating their greens.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.