Healthy Baked Polenta Fries

What’s Polenta?

Before delving into recipes and techniques for polenta fries you might be asking “What is polenta?”  Polenta is not an ingredient or a component but a specific dish.  It is a Central European food made by boiling ground yellow cornmeal into a thick and solidified porridge then baked, fried, or grilled.  Its place of origin is thought to be Northern Italy, France, or Switzerland.


In Italy it is though that polenta was eaten since Roma times and originally made from starchy ingredients like farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, and/or chickpeas.  Corn was brought to Europe from the New World in the 16th century and after that used as the primary ingredient in polenta.  The dish achieves its creamy texture from the gelatinization of starch yet it might not have a homogenous texture if the grain is a very coarse or hard grind.

Initial Cooking

Polenta is cooked by simmering the cornmeal (or other grain) in water or broth/stock with any other desired ingredients and eaten after the mixture is cooked again.  The initial boiling often takes place in a large copper pot called a paiolo and stirred with a large wooded stick (usually made of walnut) known as a canella until the polenta becomes thick enough the support the stirring rod on its own.  At this point the polenta is ready for its secondary cooking.


Baked Polenta Fries

There are several different versions of baked polenta “fries” to appeal to a wide range of tastes.  One is a very Italian variation using sage, rosemary, and parmesan cheese or a similar one like romano or asiago.  After cooking polenta to a solid state sir in the herbs and cheese then transfer it to a baking dish and chill it until well set, about 45 minutes.  Preheat your broiler and line a baking sheet with foil then grease it.  Unmold the chilled polenta and cut it into 16 four inch by one inch sticks.  Brush the tops with olive oil then broil the sticks about four inches from the broiler until golden.  This should take about fifteen to twenty minutes.  This variety is delicious served with marinara sauce.

If you are looking for something a little more traditional and easier to prepare you can use 2 eighteen-ounce tubes of prepared polenta.  Unwrap the tubes and cut them in half crosswise then cut each half lengthwise into eight wedges.  Oil a large, rimmed baking sheet then place the wedges in a single layer turning them over to coat with the oil.  Season with salt and pepper then bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.  The polenta fries are great served with ketchup.

You can go with a Southwest twist for your polenta fries by adding minced peppers, chili powder, and cheddar cheese.  You might want to use corn oil and a seasoned salt or even a commercial chili seasoning packet from your local grocery store.  Prepare these using the same method(s) discussed above and serve them with salsa.




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