Two things you may or may not know about me:
- When I have money, I tend to buy groceries. Not clothes, not gadgets, not iPads. Food. That’s my luxury spending, my crisis spending, my comfort spending, my impulse spending. Thing is, we’re only two people here, though we often share our food with the three who live next door (mom, uncle, kid). We cannot possibly eat everything in the house before some of it goes bad unless I’m super-good about keeping my shopping to a minimum. Since my debt-elimination project began, though, I’ve been a little indulgent buying groceries, because they’re on the needs list, and therefore okay to buy. Theoretically. I gotta work on that.
- I am a supertaster. This means I can taste some flavors strongly even when they’re faint. A tinytiny amount of almond extract makes a dish inedible for me. I can taste minute amounts of artificial sweetener. An eighth of a teaspoon of five-spice powder (which is evil to my tastebuds. Evil!) makes the whole dish horrifying. And I can tell when food has gone rancid wayyyyyy before anyone else in my family notices it.
What I am about to say next will gross out some of you, and I don’t blame you.
So in cooking down the pantry, I’m going to need to use up a LOT of grains. Because there are so many, though, some of them tend to go off before I use them. I tossed the brown rice –whoof! it was clearly rancid. But the cornmeal? It’s only almost off. So, um, don’t hate me. I made some polenta from some of it anyway, because I knew my family wouldn’t even notice, and they like fried polenta.
I can’t believe I’m telling you this.
Anyway, use good, fresh cornmeal for this, not months-old cornmeal that’s about a week away from turning. Unless, you know, you’re into that.
I did throw out the rest of the cornmeal, partly from guilt and partly because I know that the next time I open it up, it won’t be fit to use, not even for regular people with normal tastebuds.
And I promise that even though my mother loved this polenta SO MUCH, I will love my family enough not to serve them food I think is not really fit to eat, ever again.
- 1 cup cornmeal, any kind
- 3 to 4 cups water (3 cups makes the process faster; 4 cups makes the mixture a bit softer, but takes longer)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3-4 tbsp butter
- ½ to 1 tsp white peppercorns, to taste (or ¼ to ½ tsp ground white pepper, to taste)
- 1 clove garlic
- a little olive oil if you're going to fry it later
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ small onion, diced finely
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 can diced tomatoes (I used tomatoes with oregano and basil already in them; if you use plain, add ½ tsp each dried basil and oregano, if you want)
- water as needed
- In a mortar and pestle, pound peppercorns and garlic together until you get a thick but pretty finely crushed paste. Set aside. Alternatively, you can just use ground pepper and add a crushed garlic clove.
- Bring water and salt to boil in small saucepan
- Slowly pour in cornmeal while stirring constantly
- Once corn mixture returns to a boil, turn heat down to medium-low and stir almost constantly until it's very thick and bubbly
- Remove from heat and stir in butter and pepper-garlic paste. Check seasoning and add salt if necessary.
- At this point, the polenta is ready to eat by itself, or you can fry it up later. If you're going to do that, put it into a container in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, until it's set enough to slice.
- In a small skillet or saucepan, fry the onions in olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and saute another minute.
- Add tomatoes and herbs if using.
- Cook, stirring often, 20-30 minutes, until tomatoes are very soft. You will probably have to add water from time to time to keep the mixture from completely drying out and burning, but you don't want the sauce too wet in the end. It should be chunky and only barely moist.
- I prefer this sauce warm, but not hot, so I usually put it in the fridge until the fried polenta is ready, and then just warm it up for a second off the heat in the hot pan after the polenta is done.
- Slice the polenta into ½-inch slices and fry in a teaspoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Fry for a few minutes on each side, until it starts to get brown and crisp. Serve hot with tomato sauce poured over it.