My mom and dad were in town visiting last weekend and for their first night here I cooked up another batch of the Stuffed Chicken with Herb Gravy that I posted last week, but this time made it with some creamy, goat cheese polenta as a side instead of the mashed spuds I used the first time around. It was an awesome combo, but as is always my custom, I made way more polenta than we needed as a side dish, so poured the rest of it (while it was still hot from the pan and pliable) into a nice even layer inside of an 8" x 8" baking dish for use later.
This act of moving the polenta quickly to a container for storage is pretty key, because as those of you who cook it frequently know, once the polenta starts to cool and congeal it gets rather chunky and unappetizing. It is perhaps due to its quick cooling nature that I tend not to cook creamy polenta that often, because as much as I love it smooth, hot and cheesy from the pan, as soon as it starts to coagulate it puts me off. That said, I am loathe to leave left-overs to cool in the cooking pan while we eat knowing that I'll end up with a be a deep, gnarly mass of solidified cornmeal in the end.
A much better plan is to spread it out in a uniform layer in a fresh baking dish so that a few days down the road you can cut some planks from the cooled polenta and make these fabulous oven-baked fries! If you choose, you can use a cookie cutter to cut out puck shaped pieces, or any other shape that suits your fancy, but I like to make my "fries" look like traditional fries and in fact, love to stack them as the French do their famed "Pont Neuf" potatoes.
As much as I like creamy polenta hot from the pan, I must say that I like it even better this way. After about 15-20 minutes in a very hot oven the planks emerge crispy and slightly caramelized on the outside, but still warm and creamy in the center….they are perfection!
You can make these fries with whatever kind of cooled polenta you have on-hand. I've included the recipe for the Goat Cheese Polenta that I cooked when my folks were here, and later used to make these fries, but you can use whatever polenta you like.
Cheers – Steve
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 ounces plain, fresh (soft) goat cheese
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pour the polenta into the water in a steady stream, whisking constantly so that no lumps form. Drop the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently until the polenta has absorbed all the water and tarts to pull away from the side of the pan, about 15-20 minutes.
- Take a little nibble to check the consistency, and if it's to your liking, pull the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese until melted. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
- Use hot, then pour any reserved leftovers into an 8' x 8" baking dish to cool, or pour the whole batch into an 11" x 13" baking dish, let cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate until ready to make your fries.
- When ready to make fries (or discs, or whatever shape you choose), heat the oven to 450℉.
- Cut the polenta into planks for fries, discs, squares....whatever, and place them on a non-stick baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, then gently turn the pieces oven in the oil so that they get lighly coated on all sides. Lightly season the pieces with salt and pepper and place the baking sheet in the oven.
- Cook for 10 minutes, then pull the sheet, gently flip the pieces, and put them back in the oven to cook for another 10 minutes or so, until they are crisp and golden brown as in the photos above.
- Serve hot from the oven as-is, or with a light dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese.