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How to Make Polenta

When I was a kid, one of my favorite breakfasts was cornmeal mush. My mom cooked up a batch of cornmeal with water and milk the night before, spread it out in a baking pan, and cut it into wedges the next morning. Crisp on the crust and soft on the insides, this fried mush was particularly great with a sweet swirl of maple syrup. I can still taste it now.

It wasn’t until years later I realized she was making polenta.

We like to make up a batch of herbed polenta early in the week and pour it into a pie pan to chill. When we need dinner fast, and the chicken is roasting, we slice up triangles of the polenta and fry them in a skim of hot oil in a cast-iron skillet. What to put on top? More goat cheese. A squiggle of good balsamic vinegar. Or some homemade apple-cherry chutney.

I hope my daughter remembers this the way I remember that fried cornmeal mush.

HERBED POLENTA, adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups whole milk (you can use a non-dairy milk, if you want)
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup gluten-free fine yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup soft goat cheese

Cooking the vegetables: Set a large pot over medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil. Add the shallots to the hot oil and cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened and reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Toss in the rosemary and thyme and cook until they release their scents, about 1 minute.

Making the polenta: Add the milk and water to the pot. As soon as the liquids come to a boil, pour in the cornmeal and reduce the heat to low. Stir the mixture with a steady hand until the polenta starts to pull away from the edges of the pot, 30 to 40 minutes.

Finishing the polenta: When the polenta is ready, add the butter, Parmesan cheese, and goat cheese. Stir and stir until they are incorporated. Taste the polenta and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Chilling the polenta: Immediately pour the polenta into a pie pan or baking dish. Using a rubber spatula, evenly spread out the polenta and smooth the top surface. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight.

Feeds 4.

Make ahead. Making good polenta is a meditative act. It takes time. However, if you make a batch of this on a weekend day, you can have fried polenta for breakfast all week long.

How to make the fried polenta wedges: Set a large skillet, preferably a nonstick skillet, over high heat. Pour in oil. When the oil is hot enough that it begins to smoke, carefully lay down the wedges of polenta. Allow the bottoms to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and do the same on the other side. You can also cut the polenta in fry-sized shapes and cook those for the kids!

How to get the kids involved: The kids can chop the herbs with knives safe for them. If they are old enough, set them to stirring!

How to make this for breakfast: If you’d like to have a sweetened cornmeal mush for breakfast, leave out the two cheeses. Slide up wedges of the polenta and fry it up with hot oil. Top with maple syrup.

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