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
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