Jan’s Basic Polenta
This is a flavorful and tender style of polenta — 180 degrees different from the commercially prepared item you buy in those plastic tubes. Keep a batch in the freezer for last-minute winter suppers.
•3 cups chicken broth (canned is OK)
•3 cups half-and-half
•¼ teaspoon white pepper
•1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
•1 cup semolina
•1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
INGREDIENTS FOR A SIMPLE OPTION:
•2 large sweet onions
•4 to 8 slices pepper bacon (the absolute best quality you can find — one that is elegantly smoked), halved
•Additional grated Parmesan for garnish
•Tomato slices for garnish
In a medium to large heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the chicken broth and half-and-half to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then whisk in the white pepper, polenta and semolina. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. After about 3 minutes, as the polenta thickens to the proper consistency, it will begin to produce very large, heavy bubbles. Within another minute or so, the polenta will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan (and the bursting bubbles will be quite volcanic — both in temperature and character). Remove it from the heat and stir in the Parmesan.
Spread the polenta into a shallow glass dish to a level of about ¾-inch thick. (NOTE: The polenta can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead; cover the top with plastic wrap so it doesn't form a crust and then refrigerate; for long-term storage, cut it into serving-sized rectangles or diamonds and remove it from the dish using a wide spatula and freeze).
FOR A SIMPLE WAY TO USE THE POLENTA: Use the “Ingredients for a simple option” above. Cut the stem and root ends from the onions and peel. Cut the onion into 4 (½-inch thick) rounds. Place serving size pieces of the polenta on a baking sheet, then arrange the rounds on top of the polenta, and drape each onion slice with 2 pieces of the bacon.
Bake the polenta in the preheated 425-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the bacon is thoroughly browned. Remove the bacon and return the dish to the oven and broil just until the onions have browned. Use a wide spatula for serving so that each portion contains one entire round of onion slice. Arrange the bacon on top, sprinkle with additional cheese, and tomato slices on the side. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
OTHER OPTIONS FOR FROZEN POLENTA: Saute sliced mushrooms and other vegetables, such as onions and peppers, in a bit of olive oil, along with a dash of your favorite seasonings, such as Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, or soy sauce. Serve on top the polenta after it has baked in a 425-degree oven until soft and browned, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with shredded cheese (such as a high-quality sharp Cheddar or Jack).
Frozen Hot Buttered Rum Batter
Makes 6 cups of frozen batter
•1 quart French vanilla ice cream, softened slightly
•1 pound butter (4 cubes), softened
•1 pound brown sugar
•1 pound powdered sugar
•2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
•2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
For the drinks:
In the large workbowl of a food processor (or in a large bowl, using an electric mixer), combine the ice cream, butter, sugars, cinnamon, and the 2 teaspoons of nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Pack into a freezer container(s) and store in the freezer.
To use: Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the frozen batter in each mug. Add desired amount of rum (1½ to 2 ounces), and 1 cup of boiling water. Stir to blend, then top with nutmeg.
Source: Recipe adapted from “A Taste of Oregon,” by the Junior League of Eugene.