Polenta chips. Picture / Guy Coombes.

3 Polenta Recipes

From chips to tarts, Angela Casley makes the most of a versatile Italian favourite

I still remember the first time I ate polenta. I was working in a ski resort having the time of my life in a small village, Madesimo, high above Lake Como, Italy. It was always a highlight to eat at home with our Italian friends where, more often than not, polenta was on the menu.

The preparation of the polenta was always a slow process and we would all be called on to stir the pot for five minutes each — a glass of vino in the non-stirring hand. It cooked for 45 minutes until a beautiful crust, a bit like porridge, formed on the pot. There was none of this instant polenta we have now. This was made with love and patience.

Hot, creamy and steaming, with fresh local parmesan grated in at the end of the cooking, along with plenty of pepper, that polenta was the perfect accompaniment for slow-cooked pork chops served with locally gathered morels. It was meals like this that made for a lasting memory.

Over the years I’ve learned just how versatile polenta can be. Here, I’ve used it as an alternative to pastry for the base of a tart. Bake it blind until set, then top with your favourite fillings. For me, blue cheese is a must, along with ricotta, tomatoes and rocket. Another tasty combination is smoked salmon with dill, courgettes and herbs. The options are endless, and this tart is perfect to whip up as a quick lunch dish.

There is only one way to describe oven-baked polenta chips — the bomb. These you have to try, with their subtle taste of rosemary and delicious crunchy texture. Make your polenta earlier in the day and allow it to cool completely before cutting into chips. Served with aioli, these are great alongside roast chicken or fish, or just on their own as a scrummy snack.

Nick, a friend who is travelling in Italy at the moment, has been sending me beautiful food shots from enviable, sunny locations. Amazing seafood platters, scrummy pizzas, and a creamy polenta served with a pork ragu which really took my fancy on a cold spring day.

It was that shot of the creamy polenta that evoked my happy Italian food memories, so here is a simple mushroom-topped version. It must be served hot as it will start to set if left to sit for too long, so have your friends or family seated ready to eat. Buon appetito.

Recipes:
• Ricotta, Tomato and Rocket Tart

• Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Thyme

• Polenta Chips with Aioli

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