Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fried Cheese Polenta with Brussels Sprouts and Aromatic Herb Oil - Rustic and Cozy

Fried cheese polenta served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish

Once a peasant food, polenta has been adopted in all types of cuisines, mainly due to its versatility. This humble, corn meal dish can be transformed into a delicious meal by adding Brie and Parmesan cheese. Cooled until firm, polenta can be then sliced or cut into designs and pan-fried until golden and slightly crisp. Serve it with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish, perfect when autumn's chill sets in.

Fried cheese polenta served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish

The coarse grains of polenta develop their characteristic softness when mixed in simmering liquid. The preparation is simple but to cook a good polenta takes a little bit of time and patience. The corn flour is added "like rain" which means it's sprinkled lightly by hand over a pot of simmering water. Then it's stirred with a whisk constantly, the flame is reduced and it's switched to a wooden spoon and stirred again for more than a half an hour.

Fried cheese polenta served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish

In today's fried cheese polenta with Brussels sprouts and aromatic herb oil recipe, I added Brie cheese and Parmesan because they are both creamy and have sharp flavors, but you can use any melting cheese you prefer. I also added fresh sage, for a luxurious and rich herbal taste. Allow polenta to set until firm and then fry slabs of it until golden. Frying polenta produces a crunchy outside while the interior stays soft and creamy. I paired it with simple pan-roasted Brussels sprouts for an easy, rustic vegetarian dinner.
 
Fried cheese polenta served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish

Today, I will also teach how to prepare a flavorful roasted garlic, thyme and sage olive oil which can be used for drizzling in recipes such as this one or it can be used in marinades, salad dressings, cooking and so on. It's very easy to prepare and the result it's amazing.  
 
Fried cheese polenta served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a drizzle of homemade garlic and sage oil for a hearty, comforting dish

Yield: 4-6 servings                                  Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients for fried cheese polenta:
  • 1.2 l (5 cups) water
  • 225 g (1 1/2 cup) cornmeal 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250g (1/2 pound) Brie cheese
  • 200 g (2 cups) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • pepper, to taste
  • 250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour, for coating
  • 250 ml (1 cup) olive oil, for frying
Ingredients for pan-roasted Brussels sprouts:
  • 600 g (1 1/2 pounds) Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • salt
  • pepper
Ingredients for aromatic herb oil:
  • 500 ml (2 cups) olive oil
  • 2 garlic heads
  • 1/2 sage bunch
  • 1 thyme spring
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Directions:
  1. For the polenta preparation, pour the water into a medium size pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is soft and starts to thicken for 15 to 20 minutes. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue stirring. Cook for 20 more minutes and then add the Brie, Parmesan cheese, butter and sage. Stir until the cheese is melted and the polenta is creamy and smooth. Season with pepper.
  2. Grease a 20 or 22 cm (8 or 9 inch) square dish and pour the hot polenta into it. Smooth the top with a spoon or rubber spatula. Allow it to cool slightly and then refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 3 days.
  3. For the aromatic herb oil preparation, preheat the oven to 162°C (325°F). Slice the top of the garlic heads and place them, unpeeled, cut side down into a small baking dish. Pour the olive oil and add the sage, thyme and crushed red pepper flakes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Pour the oil thru a fine mesh strainer and store it in a glass bottle for up to one month. Save the sage for topping.
  4. For the Brussels sprouts preparation, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook for 3 minutes, until tender. Add the crushed garlic and cook for 2 more minutes until brown and flagrant. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, undisturbed, for 5-7 minutes until the undersides are golden-brown. Turn the sprouts over and cook on the other side for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. To fry polenta, using a sharp knife, cut the polenta into 6 squares. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Toss the polenta squares gently with flour, making sure all sides are coated. Working in batches, fry the polenta pieces until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  6. Divide the Brussels sprouts among plates. Add a piece of fried polenta to each plate and top it with sage and drizzle with aromatic herb oil. Serve immediately.
Enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:
  • The finer ground polenta has more of a tendency to create lumps. A medium ground polenta is preferable for most preparations.
  • Usually, polenta pops like lava when it boils so use a pot half full with water to avoid accidents.

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