No play-group lunches this week. My boys and I are stuck at home with what I thought was three cases of Coxsackie virus but might be something else. Regardless I've decided to keep us all home until we're not blistered/exhausted/super cranky all the time. (Not everyone has all of the listed symptoms, but we all have at least one of them. Well, not Husband. He's fine. Nothing wrong with him at all. Of course.)
But the show must go on, so here's a meal that's quick to the table if you put a bit of time in the night before. We ate it for breakfast, but it works any time of the day, it's a whole grain and it's versatile. Polenta can be served with any sauce you'd use for pasta, or simply as a side the same way you'd serve rice or potatoes.
If you have an Italian Nonna, she might have stirred her polenta in a special copper pot reserved for the purpose (so says my friend MF.) But I have no Nonna and no patience for things that require constant attention, so I use Madhur Jaffrey's method of baking the polenta instead. If you put it in the oven when your family sits down for dinner you can put it in the fridge by bedtime and then have it ready to go when you need to start dinner the next night.
2 cups stone ground corn meal
1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil, plus more for the dish
1 Tablespoon salt
3 cups cool water (from the tap is fine)
4 ½ cups water in a large pot
Set your 4 ½ cups water to boil.
Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit.
Butter or oil an 8”x8”x4” dish. (Note: a standard square pyrex is only 8”x8”x2”, so use something taller, or just a rectangular pyrex and cook for slightly less time. If your dish doesn't have an oven safe cover prepare a piece of aluminum foil.)
Put cornmeal into a medium bowl. Add cool water in ½ cup increments, stirring after each addition.
When water in pot comes to a boil, add salt and stir. Stir cornmeal mixture again, then add slowly to boiling water, stirring throughout. Return to a boil while stirring. As soon as the mixture begins to thicken, add the butter and then pour into the prepared baking dish. Smooth it out with the back of a spoon, cover and bake for 50 minutes.
You can serve it fresh out of the oven with a bit of butter and freshly-grated Parmesan, or allow to cool and then refrigerate overnight.
The next day remove the polenta from the refrigerator and place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the polenta into rectangles. When the skillet is hot, add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, arrange the polenta in a single layer in the pan, leaving a bit of room between slices. You might need to do more than one batch. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown, on each side. Serve as you would any starch side, or garnished with your favorite pasta sauce.