Have you ever organized a dinner party and spent so much time cooking that you barely had time to socialize with your guests? That happened to me numerous times until I learned to simplify things and serve dishes that are easy to make yet super tasty. Polenta is one of my go-to items for many reasons. 1. It is inexpensive and for a single mom on a budget, it comes in handy. 2. It is versatile. I have done so many things with polenta that I never get bored. (Polenta pizza is one of my favorite weeknight meals) 3. You can bake it, fry it or grill it so you can get creative and make some magic in the kitchen.
I think the first time I made polenta cakes was about ten years ago while visiting family in California. A lot of my family had come out for my brother’s wedding and one night we had returned back to my mom’s house after a long day of sightseeing. One of my relatives had bought a tube of pre-cooked polenta (which I now detest) and I was rummaging through the fridge looking for a snack. I had just bought some goat cheese and basil at a local produce market and decided to fry up some polenta slices and top with leftover marinara sauce (from the previous night’s dinner), goat cheese and basil. Before I knew it, my aunts were devouring them faster than I could fry them and complimenting me on my quick and tasty appetizer. Ever since then, I have been making all types of polenta cakes and topping them with everything from different cheeses and tomatoes to pesto, marinara, eggplant and more. Since I always have a bag of instant polenta on hand, these cute little cakes are a favorite of mine when I have guests over or I just want a quick snack with a glass of wine.
***Disclaimer. You are about to see some less than stellar photography. My kitchen is tiny, dark and dreary. No matter how hard I try, I can’t take a decent photo. My apologies.
There are several ways you can make polenta cakes. One way is to use the pre-cooked tubes that you can get at the local grocery store. They are good in a pinch but I prefer to use instant polenta and make my own. You can follow the directions and prepare with just water, or you can get creative and add garlic, herbs and milk, which I did for the recipe. (I love the method that Recipe Girl uses). Once you prepare your polenta, you pour it into a 13×9 baking pan and let it cool. It will be lumpy, that is normal. I just throw on some plastic gloves and smooth it out as much as I can. Once it cools, you can use a round cutter or if you are like me and do not have one, improvise! (I used a beer tasting glass because it was the perfect size). Cut out your cute little polenta cakes and fry on a grill pan until golden brown.
I topped my polenta cakes with Burrata (one of my favorite cheeses that is like buttah), Campari tomato slices, fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
Place your polenta cakes on a nice serving dish, adorn with some fresh basil and top with freshly grated salt and pepper. Now you look like a rock star!
I hope you enjoy this recipe and would love to hear your feedback. Be sure to check out the amazing recipes below from the Sunday Supper Family. I am getting hungry just reading the titles. Enjoy your day!
- 2 2/3 cups whole milk
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- (you can use any herbs you have, as I used basil and oregano)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal or polenta
- 1/3 cup olive oil (more or less), for frying
- 4 ounces burrata (you can sub for mozzarella or goat cheese)
- Fresh basil leaves (home grown or 1 pack from the market)
- 3 Campari Tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds (you can use any tomato you desire)
- Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
- 1. Prepare polenta cakes: Lightly oil 13x9-inch baking pan. Bring first 4 ingredients to simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat; simmer 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove herbs and garlic. Whisk in cornmeal or polenta in a slow steady stream and then return to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the polenta is very thick, whisking often, about 10 minutes. Turn polenta out into prepared pan; spread to 1/2-inch thick layer- don't worry about making it perfect- just spread it out as even as you can. Let it cool completely. When the polenta is cool, use a 1 to a 1 1/2-inch round cutter to cut out 24 to 30 polenta rounds (as many as you can). *Depending on the type and size of cutter you use, you will yield anywhere from 12-30 polenta cakes. Fry until golden brown on a grill pan.
- 2. Prepare to assemble: Place your polenta cakes on a large baking sheet. Top each with cheese, then tomato slices. Place a piece of fresh basil on each cake and then drizzle all of the cakes with olive oil.
- 3. Transfer your cakes to a serving platter with a spatula. Adorn the platter with fresh basil leaves or anything else you desire. Top all the cakes with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.
- 4. Serve and enjoy!
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