A Delicious Fall Appetizer Perfect for Cool Nights

Earlier this fall in a cooking class, I included the recipe for some polenta squares with Gruyère, walnuts, and fresh rosemary. In the class they were served as a side dish to racks of lamb, but later I discovered that they worked beautifully as appetizers. A few days after that class, my husband and I ended up hosting an impromptu Sunday supper for family and friends. There were ten of us and I needed a quick opener. Why not turn that delicious side dish into a starter, I reasoned! The polenta squares turned out to be the stars of the evening, and were simple to assemble well in advance.

I have loved polenta since I first tasted it prepared by Italian chefs back in the 80s. Those chefs used water and coarse meal. However, when I started making polenta, I found that replacing the water with chicken stock added another layer of flavor. Instead of coarsely ground meal, I used everyday yellow cornmeal for a smoother texture.

For this recipe, once the cornmeal is whisked into simmering stock and has thickened, I stir in grated Gruyère, chopped walnuts, and fresh rosemary. Then I spread the mixture into a buttered dish and chill it until firm. Once set, the polenta is cut into squares, transferred to a baking sheet, and topped with more cheese and walnuts. Baked for only a few minutes, these polenta squares are sprinkled with rosemary and served warm—a perfect opener for a chilly autumn night!

 

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Polenta Wedges with Gruyère, Crushed Walnuts, and Rosemary

2 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese plus 3 tbsp for sprinkling on top of the squares (See note.)
3 tbsp unsalted butter plus a little extra to butter the baking dish
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped plus 8 walnut halves, halved lengthwise for garnish
1 1/2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary plus 1tsp extra for garnish
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic pan generously with butter and set aside.

2. In a heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and gradually, a little at a time, whisk in the cornmeal. Continue to whisk constantly until mixture thickens, 4 to 5 minutes or more. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 3/4 cup Gruyère and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter. Stir well until both are melted. Stir in chopped nuts and 1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary. Season the polenta with salt and pepper as needed.

3.Immediately, transfer mixture to prepared dish, and using a metal spatula or table knife spread evenly. Cool polenta 15 minutes, and then refrigerate until quite firm, an hour or longer.

4. Using a sharp knife, cut polenta into 16 equal squares, and transfer them, bottom sides (which are smooth) up, to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dot squares with remaining butter and sprinkle with remaining Gruyère. Place a walnut in the center of each square. (Polenta squares can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 20 minutes before baking.)

5. Arrange a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat polenta squares, uncovered, until hot, about 10 minutes. Using a metal spatula, arrange the squares on a serving plate and sprinkle with remaining rosemary. Serve the squares with napkins for holding. Makes 16 servings

Market Note: If available, use a good aged Gruyère as it will have a more pronounced flavor. My local Whole Foods sells aged Gruyères.

Cooking Tip: To toast walnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350° F oven until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and cool.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2017

12 thoughts on “A Delicious Fall Appetizer Perfect for Cool Nights

  1. Hi Ellie,
    So glad you’re thinking of making these. I’ve used them as appetizers several times this fall, and I took them to Maddy’s as a side dish. For the latter, just cut them into 9 squares or use a buttered 9-inch pie plate and cut them into 6 to 8 wedges!

  2. Good Golly, Betty. I didn’t have immediate plans to have people over until I saw this recipe, but I do now! Creamy, flavorful goodness. Thank you for a perfect fall appetizer.

  3. These look wonderful. I have a question, I want to take them to a family Thanksgiving gathering. Would they be served room temp instead of warm? The oven will be full of the main event and other items so no room for anything else. Thanks for great ideas. Nancy J.

    • You can have them completely made ahead up to the point where they are baked. If you arent’ traveling far, you can heat them up in your home oven and then cover with foil and have them ready to serve when you arrive. If they cool down, they’ll still be good–just not warm. Hope this helps!

  4. Can’t wait to try! As always you have the best recipes! From Nancy’s question, could they be heated up in microwave or would that dry them out? Thanks!

    • Yes, I’ve heated leftovers in the microwave. I’ve done like 6 at a time and started at 10 seconds and kept heating in 10 second intervals until warm. Usually it takes only about 20 to 30 seconds.

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