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Crisp Polenta Cake

Updated February 23, 2016
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Pizza di granturco, a specialty of the Abruzzo, is all about texture. The polenta cake is crisp and crunchy from the coarse grind of the cornmeal and from the baking technique. (If you can find only medium-grind polenta, you can use it, but the cake will not be as crunchy). I usually serve the cake topped with cooked greens, but it can be a vehicle for many different toppings, such as those you might serve on crostini (see variations).

WINE: The greens call for a wine that can handle strong flavors and a touch of spice, such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Rosso Piceno or Rosso Conero from the Marche. For Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, look for producers such as Caldora, Masciarelli, or Farnese (be careful in your selection because there are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo jug wines, too). Velenosi and Pilastri are two great Rosso Piceno producers, and Moroder and Umani Ronchi are the preferred choices for Rosso Conero.

If you decide to make the smoked salmon or smoked trout variation, pour an aromatic white from Friuli or Alto Adige. Pinot Bianco (for its lemony flavors), Gewürztraminer (for its spice and intense aromatics), and Sylvaner (for its fresh acidity and aromatics) are three good choices. Abbazzia di Novacella, J. Hofstätter, Elena Walch, Colterenzio, Venica & Venica, and Schioppetto are reliable producers. If you opt for the crab or shrimp salad variation, Verdicchio and Falerio, both from the Marche, are good matches. The former boasts the flavors of almonds and stone fruits, while the latter is rounder and more aromatic. Bucci and Sartarelli are two excellent Verdicchio producers, while San Giovanni and Velenosi turn out the best Falerio.

Serves8 to 12

Cooking Methodbaking

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseantipasto/mezze, hot appetizer, tapas/small plates

Dietary Considerationantipasto/mezze, hot appetizer, tapas/small plates

Equipmentbaking/gratin dish

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturecrisp, crunchy

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for preparing skillet
  • 2 cups coarse-or medium-grind polenta (about 11 ounces)
  • 6 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 Pounds assorted bitter greens such as escarole, kale, dandelion, Swiss chard or broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Grated pecorino or shredded smoked provolone or scamorza cheese for topping

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Liberally oil a well-seasoned 12-inch cast-iron skillet or a 12-inch round baking dish and place in the oven for a few minutes to heat. Heating the pan or dish is important, as it helps the polenta form a bottom crust.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the polenta and water and place over medium heat. Bring slowly to a boil, whisking often to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for just a few minutes until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper and carefully pour into the hot prepared skillet or dish.

Bake the polenta cake until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and is lightly golden, 30 to 40 minutes. The cake will be crisp.

While the polenta cake is baking, prepare the spicy greens: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the greens, and boil until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the greens into a colander, pressing firmly on them with the back of a spoon to force out excess moisture. Chop the greens coarsely. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the greens and cook, stirring, until heated through and coated with the oil, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Remove from the heat.

When the polenta cake is ready, remove from the oven and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and divide among individual plates. Top the wedges with the warm greens, again dividing evenly, and scatter the cheese over the top. Serve immediately.

Variations:

This versatile polenta cake also can be topped with herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon, with sautéed mushrooms and shaved Parmesan cheese, or with crab, shrimp, or smoked trout salad made with mayonnaise and celery.

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