The weather is definitely still cold enough to warrant indulging in winter warmers. If you’re after a wholesome dish and would like a change from pasta, rice and other starches, look no further than polenta.
An Italian classic, polenta is a dish made with ground cornmeal. It’s consistency is very similar to porridge and can take up to an hour or more to make if employing the traditional methods of preparation. These days, however, you will see great modern interpretations such as grilled polenta slices and golden crispy fried polenta fingers.
I love the fact that polenta is just so hearty and versatile. You can serve it in it’s liquid form with a few succulent lamb sausages resting on top, a generous helping of pasta sauce and parmesan cheese, or sauteed mixed mushrooms and thyme. If you allow it to set in the fridge, you can slice it and grill it to serve with a summer mango salsa or with some grilled sardines. It truly is a wonderful dish.
I was inspired to make a polenta dish as it was long overdue and I hadn’t made any for a long time. I was in the mood for grilling bit but didn’t quite get the inspiration until I found the most beautiful looking smoked trout in the supermarket. Then wham the ideas started flowing. Here’s the recipe:
150g instant polenta
500ml beef, chicken or vegetable stock
1 whole medium smoked trout (You can use smoked salmon or cod if you wish)
1 bunch garlic shoots
1 tbsp butter
1 handful cherry tomatoes
1 pear (you can use any pear you like, I used a bosc pear for added crunchiness)
1/4 red onion
Fresh dill (If you don’t have fresh, just use another fresh herb. Thyme, Sage, Chives, whatever. But try and avoid the dried stuff for this salad)
1 tsp fermented tofu (you can use mustard if you can’t get your hands on this)
2-3tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
So, to the polenta first. this will need 5-10 minutes to cook and 20 minutes – 1/2 hour to set in the freezer. Polenta purists out there will be coming after me with burning torches and pitchforks for using instant polenta, but the reality is most of us don’t have the time to make it the traditional way which I will happily admit tastes much better than instant. In saying that, I think the instant stuff does the job just fine for this dish.
Combine the stock and water (you can use just stock if you want more flavour) and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Grab a whisk and slowly add the polenta until it is all dissolved. Continue to whisk vigorously (make sure to do this, polenta has a nasty habit of sticking) then add the butter (this is optional). You want the consistency to be quite thick and find a fair bit of resistance with your whisk as this will help it set for grilling later. After 6-7 minutes, take it off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Make sure you taste it! If need be, add some salt before the next step. (If you want, feel free to grate in some Parmesan cheese or thyme for extra flavour)
Grab a rectangular dish or tray that’s about an inch deep. (Or any shape dish at that – it will simply change the shape of the slices). Line the bottom with glad wrap, pour in all the polenta and spread it out with the back of a spoon so that the surface is as even as possible. you want to have nice slices about 2cm deep so pick the size of the dish accordingly. Put the dish in the freezer and allow to set for about 20-30 minutes. Remember you don’t want to freeze it, you just want to help it set:
Now, to the trout.
Peel the skin off the trout and carefully separate the flesh from the bones. Using a small knife, run the point along the flesh for any bones you might have missed. Set aside. You may need 2 trout as I ended up eating almost all of it. Now if you can’t get whole smoked trout you can used smoked salmon or cod but try and get the whole trout, the flavour is so much better and it’s packed full of those delicious natural oils. You should be able to find them in woolworths.
The garlic shoots are easy – slice them into thirds, then slice the stalks length ways. See, easy!
For the salad, cut the pear in half then length ways (remove the seeds), slice the tomatoes whichever way you like, slice the onion as thinly as possible, separate the dill from the stalk and combine. For the dressing, take 1 tsp of fermented tofu and combine it with the olive oil and lime. Get a fork and mash the fermented tofu until dissolved with the lime and oil then whisk vigorously until you get a lovely emulsification.
Now, to put the whole thing together!
Take the polenta out of the freezer, it should now be quite firm to touch and the whole thing should now be in one solid piece. Cut it into even slices, brush both sides with a little olive oil and set aside.
Pre heat a small pan and a griddle pan (or whichever 2 pans you have). In the small pan, add some olive oil. Once this is hot add the shoots, stirring frequently. The shoots don’t need long – the reason we cook them is to take away the harshness and bring out the sweetness. No more than 5 minutes on a medium heat for these. Add 4-5 pieces of polenta to the griddle pan once you have a nice smoke going. For the polenta, one you get he nice brown grill marks, turn over. Make sure they don’t stick! Set everything aside.
Now all you need to do is dress the salad and toss it, put a piece of polenta on the plate, top with shoots and a nice piece of trout, add the salad and presto, you should have something that hopefully looks a little something like this:
All up this dish took no longer than 40 minutes to make and I must say it was delicious – the contrast of the fermented tofu and the pear with the dill bringing it all together, the softness of the polenta, and the sweetness of the trout and garlic shoots made this one of my instant favourites.