The Italians hold dear their porridge or polenta made from cornmeal. I love its versatality – served plain or enriched by being baked or fried with other ingredients. In this recipe, the polenta is mixed with red peppers, celery and spring onions, cooled and cut into fingers. The colours look so pretty. They are then crumbed and fried.
While cooking the cornmeal, add the grains slowly, otherwise the grains will form lumps. Stir continuously and add a ladleful of boiling water each time it becomes too thick. Cook for 30 minutes or longer if you want a softer textured porridge.
As for the sauce, you can opt for just tomatoes blended with some spices and herbs of your choice. I added the mushrooms and cottage cheese for more taste and variation. You can also opt for canned and peeled tomatoes to save time.
It takes a little time and patience, but the result is just yummy.
PREP: 2 hours 45 minutes including cooling time COOK TIME: 45 minutes SERVES: 4
- 1 litre vegetable stock or water
- 200 g polenta
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped with the stalks
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- ½ small red pepper, finely chopped
- Plain flour
- 2 eggs lightly beaten with ½ cup milk
- 200 g breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- Salt to taste
- Vegetable oil for frying
Mushroom and Paneer Sauce
- 500 g fresh tomatoes
- 200 g mushrooms, sliced
- 200 g fresh paneer, cubed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
Place the vegetable stock in a large saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. If you are using water, then it has to be salted. Strew in the cornmeal slowly from a height to distribute it evenly. The water should remain on boil as you add the grains, otherwise it will form lumps. Once the cornmeal has been added, lower the heat and begin stirring it with a wooden spoon.
Stir the polenta continuously. Keep a pan of boiling water ready. Each time the polenta becomes too thick to stir, add a ladleful of boiling water. Cook for at least 30 minutes, until it acquires an elastic texture and comes away from the sides of the pan. Add the spring onions, red pepper and celery and mix well. Spread into a lightly oiled (12X8 in) shallow pan. Set aside to stand for 2 hours.
Mix the cumin and coriander powder with the breadcrumbs.
Cut the polenta into fingers, toss in flour, dip in egg mixture and then in breadcrumb mixture. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until required.
To make the sauce, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and add the pepper. Add the mushrooms with a little salt. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and the mixture is dry.
Cut the tops of the tomatoes crosswise and plunge in boiling water for a few minutes until the skins start to come off. Drain and cool. Peel the tomatoes and chop them. Add 2 tbsp of oil in a pan, add the onions and garlic and cook until they are soft. Add the curry powder and enough salt.
Add the paneer and mix well. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until it thickens. Add the mushrooms. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large saucepan and cook the polenta fingers a few at a time until golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and serve with the sauce. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.