Polenta is one of our favorite meals here at 1840 Farm. We enjoy it with the best of what is seasonal and fresh from our gardens or the local farmer’s market. This time of year, our favorite topping for polenta is a flavorful sauce made from heirloom tomatoes.
For years, we had been making our polenta from cornmeal purchased at the grocery store. Our recipe was foolproof and always produced a polenta that had a lovely texture and flavor. We were very happy with the consistently good results we had making polenta to serve at our family table.
Then our WonderMill arrived and our good polenta was transformed into a great, show stopping dish. By making the simplest of changes to the cornmeal we were using, our polenta became a richly flavored, earthy masterpiece.
We hadn’t changed our method for making the polenta and the ingredients were technically the same. It was still basically a porridge made with water, salt, and cornmeal. The only change was that we were milling our own cornmeal instead of using store bought meal. It’s shocking what a difference freshly milled cornmeal can make.
Milling the cornmeal was incredibly easy once I had sourced the corn to grind in the WonderMill. I searched in vain for a local source for dried dent corn. After doing a little research, I found that other home millers used popcorn kernels to make their own cornmeal. Popcorn is readily available in different varieties, including organic, so I was eager to see what type of meal it would produce.
In a matter of minutes, an entire two pound bag of popcorn kernels had been processed through the mill on the coarse setting. The resulting meal was congruent with evenly ground particles. The smell of the warm meal was amazing, full of the aroma of freshly cooked corn straight from the garden.
I couldn’t wait to use this home ground meal in our beloved polenta recipe and taste the results. Polenta with Heirloom Tomato Sauce was added to our menu board for the following night’s dinner. As soon as it was bubbling away on the stove, the amazing aroma told me that this home ground meal was going to make all the difference.
Both the flavor and texture of the polenta made with our freshly milled meal was superior to the polenta we had been making. In fact, the intensity of the pure corn flavor was amazing. It transcended the entire dish from something ordinary to extraordinary. While the polenta we had made in the past was always a good base for a sauce or topping, this polenta was a great component of the dish.
This polenta’s intense, earthy flavor was robust enough to shine through the topping instead of just providing a backdrop to it. Since then, we have made this dish innumerable times and yet I am still surprised by what a difference the freshly milled cornmeal makes. It is rare that such a simple effort in the kitchen makes such a huge impact on a dish. Rare, yes, but easily achievable for anyone who has a mill and a few handfuls of popcorn in the pantry. One taste and I’m sure that you and your family will agree: home ground cornmeal makes all the difference in the world.
- 8 cups water
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 cups fresh cornmeal milled on the coarse setting
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound heirloom cherry tomatoes
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper
- grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh basil leaves to garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a shallow casserole dish or baking pan for the polenta by brushing with olive oil. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring the 8 cups of water to a rapid boil. Add the salt and return to boil. Place the cornmeal in a large mixing bowl. Using a ladle, add some of the boiling water into the cornmeal, whisking to incorporate. Add enough water to make a thin batter. Slowly add the thin batter to the remaining boiling water, whisking constantly.
- Return the cornmeal mixture to a boil while whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to simmer, uncovered, whisking often for approximately 30 minutes. Take care when whisking the hot polenta as it had a tendency to bubble and pop as it is simmering.
- The fully cooked polenta will thicken as it cooks; yet retain a smooth and silky texture. If the mixture becomes too thick, simply add a bit of warm water and whisk to combine. Taste the polenta for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.
- Transfer the polenta to the prepared baking dish. Spread the polenta to the edges of the pan, smoothing the top of the mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly cover the surface of the polenta with olive oil. Season with fresh salt and pepper and add a liberal amount of grated cheese. Place the polenta in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes as you prepare the sauce.
- Prepare the heirloom tomato sauce. Place a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook for one minute. If you are using red pepper flakes, add them to the pan. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir to combine. Allow the tomatoes to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they begin to soften and release their juices.
- Reduce the heat the low. Allow the sauce to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to break down but are still intact and their liquid has begun to reduce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
- Turn on the oven’s broiler. Broil the polenta for approximately five minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Remove the polenta from the oven. Cut the polenta into squares and transfer portions of polenta to plates before topping with the tomato mixture. Garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and fresh basil if desired. Serve.
Have you made polenta with freshly milled cornmeal? I’d love to hear about your favorite way to serve polenta at your family table.