Oven Crisped Polenta Fries
I was talking to another mom today about how easy it is to rejoice when things seem to be going well and, for a few minutes or days, you feel like you’ve got this. And how, inevitably that feeling quickly gives way to disaster, confusion, and chaos. It is probably best to take it moment to moment without relaxing into a false sense of security and success, but that can be hard to do.
So I won’t even hint at the sense that, at home, we’ve fallen into a pretty good routine. But I will enjoy the sense of accomplishment, however tiny, that comes from getting most of the dishes and laundry put away, getting the process of dinner started, and managing to encourage and help Amos to clean up the variety of blocks, pom poms, trucks, at kitchen utensils that he has spread out over our house. And then, sometime between four and five o’clock, it’s bath time.
We recently got an actual bathtub installed in the bathroom of the apartment we rent and my water loving child has taken to spending a good long while plunked in there. While he pours, mixes, scrubs, and squirts water, I take four steps and I am in the kitchen. My own mixing, pouring, scrubbing and chopping is done in small spurts, punctuated by frequent visits to the bathtub and always with one ear listening to Amos. The other ear is usually listening to NPR and the rest of me is relaxing into the small luxury of a few minutes of uninterrupted cooking.
There are plenty of times when Amos helps me make dinner. He’s not bad at chopping vegetables, if I cut them into small pieces first he can slice them smaller with a butter knife. He loves to mix ingredients together. If I don’t have something practical for him to mix he will find or ask for anything available to make into what can only be called an inedible concoction but, no matter, Amos pours it into a jar and puts it in the fridge.
I know there will be so much more cooking together tomorrow, next week and next year. I love that he enjoys spending time in the kitchen with me, but it can be so challenging. Even a few minutes of uninterrupted progress toward a meal borders on luxury.
The recipe I want to share today can be a chance to slow down and do some meditative stirring if, like me, quiet uninterrupted stirring is sometimes just what you need. Constant attention is certainly not required as long as you can keep and eye on the pot while you do other things.
In addition to occasionally allowing me to stand in one place and stir, I find polenta to be such a comforting food. I love a bowl of soft polenta topped with roasted vegetables, it makes a fabulous gratin or lasagna alternative, and I’ve recently been perfecting my recipe for crispy polenta fries. I served these to a group of friends a few weeks ago. That batch wasn’t as perfectly crisped as I had hoped but they disappeared fast. Polenta is a great dairy and gluten free option, although it certainly does not hurt to lace it with butter and cheese, and crisping it in the oven with olive oil it will appeal to almost everyone. To clarify, this polenta is not actually fried and it can easily be made a day or two ahead of time and crisped in the oven before your meal.
Oven Crisped Polenta Fries
I discovered the technique for crisping polenta in the oven in Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. She cuts it into triangles, crisps them with olive oil in the oven and serves them with a delicious black bean stew. Polenta goes well with so many things. I served these with a homemade ketchup, cheese sauce, or pesto for dipping.
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1 cup italian style coarse cornmeal (uncooked polenta)
Olive oil for the pan and for brushing the polenta
Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a medium sauce pan. Add salt. When the water is boiling, pour in the polenta and whisk to make sure that it is smooth with no lumps. Reduce heat to medium low so that it simmering but not bubbling too much. Cook, stirring the polenta every few minutes (or constantly if desired, but it is certainly not necessary), for about 25 minutes or until the polenta is tender and no longer has a slight soapy taste. It will become thicker as it cooks. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
While the polenta is cooking, grease a half sheet pan with olive oil. When the polenta is done, spread it evenly over the prepared pan. Let it cool until it is solidified and not too hot to cut or cover and refrigerate it for up to two days.
When you are ready to crisp the polenta, preheat the oven to 400′ F. Cut the polenta into small rectangles or your desired shape. Divide the sliced polenta evenly between two half sheet pans, brushing both sides of each piece with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to flip each piece over and bake for another 20 minutes or until they are crispy on the outside. Enjoy while they are hot.
Serves 2-3 people with a meal and more people for snacking.