by Michelle Norris from www.browneyedbaker.com
Polenta is a dish that is near and dear to my heart, as my grandmother always prepared it the night before Thanksgiving when members our family arrived from out of town to celebrate the holiday. The polenta was always prepared the same way (“mush”-style) and always had a choice of two toppings: red meat sauce or fried sausage and bacon. You really can’t go wrong either way and I’ve switched back and forth between both, although I do love my bacon, so I typically lean toward the bacon and sausage topping. Until making this polenta pizza, I had never eaten polenta prepared in any way but the traditional soft, “mush” style. In fact, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have encountered recipes for polenta being set in the refrigerator and then cut and prepared a second time – baked, fried, grilled, you name it. Perhaps it has become the twice-baked potato of Italian fare?
The thing that is absolutely superb about this recipe is that it is so versatile and, like a regular pizza, you can make it to suit your individual tastes. Think of it as a pizza crust that you can top however you like (which is truly what it is!). Rub some herb oil on the crust and top with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. Or spread your favorite pizza sauce on top and pile on your toppings. The possibilities are endless. This is also a great dish to keep in mind when you need an appetizer. Top it however you’d like and cut into bite-size squares – perfect for setting out on a platter – no forks needed! You can control how thin or thick the polenta “crust” is by the size pan that you use. For this recipe I used an 11×16” pan that created a thin and crispy crust. You could go for something smaller for a thicker, more substantial crust.
Makes 4 generous portions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for pan
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup coarse cornmeal
Freshly ground black pepper
5 strips of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 cups baby spinach
1 roma tomato, sliced
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1. Brush a layer of olive oil on a pizza pan or cookie sheet. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine milk, water and a large pinch of salt. Bring just about to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 10 or 15 minutes. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in a bit more water; you want a consistency approaching thick oatmeal.
2. Stir 1 tablespoon oil into cooked cornmeal (polenta). Spoon it onto prepared pan, working quickly so polenta does not stiffen; spread it evenly to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and put it in refrigerator until it is firm, an hour or more (you can refrigerate polenta overnight if you prefer).
3. Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Put polenta in oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges. Meanwhile, put one tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have released all of their moisture, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to take the mushrooms out of pan; set aside. Add spinach to skillet and sauté until it releases its water and pan becomes dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Take polenta out of oven, sprinkle with fontina cheese, then spread spinach evenly on top of cheese and top with mushrooms, bacon and sliced tomato. Put pizza back in oven for two minutes, or until cheese begins to melt and the toppings are warmed through. Cut into slices and serve hot or at room temperature. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.