Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warm Polenta Caprese

It's August, and that means tomatoes, so the first word that comes to mind whenever I'm trying to pull together a simple dinner is caprese.   There are few food combinations that work as well as mozzarella, basil and tomato.   You can melt them all together in a sandwich.  You can toss them all together with pasta.  You can stick them on skewers and call them appetizers, or just stack them in slices and call it a side salad.  

I wanted to make a more substantial meal of it, and one easy answer for that is polenta.   I had beautiful basil that I got at the farm market because I have officially killed my fourth basil plant of the season. 

You can buy your polenta pre-made in a tube, or you can make it very easily with cornmeal, water and salt.  Butter if you're fancy.  Stock instead of water.  I buy the cornmeal that's actually marked "polenta."  You can add herbs and cheese and all sorts of stuff while you're making it.  I tend to make it boring so it's ready to be used in any application.  You can make it up, cut it into cubes or slices or whatever and freeze it so it's always ready, but it only takes 20 minutes to make from scratch.   

So start with some made up polenta, and let it chill a good while so it firms up.  At least an hour, but a day works great.  I set mine up in a pie pan, but whatever works for you.  I aim for 1-inch cubes, but I don't bust out the ruler or anything. 

So cube up the polenta (I used about a third of a recipe for this salad - I made two cups dry and used way less) and freeze any extra. 

Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil and turn up to medium high.   Add polenta when the oil is hot (drop of water pops).

And shallow fry, turning to brown each side.  About 3 minutes per side.  Touch the polenta to check for crispness.  It should have a nice toasty feel on all sides. 

Drain the polenta on a towel and discard any remaining oil.  

While the pan is warm and just slightly greased, add some tomatoes and turn to med-low. 

Toss them around in the hot pan a bit, to warm them up, but not enough to make them mushy. 

I used massaged kale for the base, because I have a kale addiction, but you could do this over any sort of lettuce.  

A few pieces of polenta,

a good bit of fresh mozzarella,

 warm tomatoes,

and lots of fresh basil. 

Toss that together with some reduced balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper and you have a chunky and filling salad.

This made three nice servings, and of course we had leftover polenta to freeze. 

This recipe is cross-posted at the blog for the South Philly Food Co-op, whose mission is to open a member-owned cooperative grocery store that provides affordable and nutritious food to all residents of South Philadelphia while empowering the local community through sustainable practices, food-centric education, outreach, and community building.  Become a member-owner by filling out the application here

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Warm Polenta Caprese
A heartier version of caprese salad, an excellent way to take advantage of late summer tomatoes
  • 12 1-inch cubes polenta
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella balls, cut in quarters
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic reduction
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 2 cups massaged kale or other salad greens
Shallow fry polenta in olive oil until lightly browned and crispy on all sides.Remove polenta to towel to drain. Drain remaining oil from pan and add chopped tomatoes. Toss to warm.Add polenta, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to greens or kale to make salads. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with salt to taste. Makes three servings, serve warm.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 3 servings

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