Here’s the thing, (a common saying in my family, one that really is just the precursor to many “things”), life is about taking risks. In my world, risks are calculated, planned, and always come with a “to-do” list before said risk can be executed. I’ve never been the type of person to “jump first, think later.” In fact, my very best friend, who is truly my sister from another family, once told me in high school to lighten up.
At the time those words stung, and I’m sure were received with a few profanities and grumbles; however, thinking about them now, I understand she meant no harm (maybe a little judgement, but definitely no harm). Then again, I’ve always been an old soul, so taking risks never came naturally to me, neither did lightening up, apparently.
Now, as I’ve settled down, and fallen in love with cooking, I can hear my internal monologue reminding me that it is in fact ok to lighten up. In fact, some recipes turn out better when I forget about the recipe and listen to my tastebuds instead. This is one of those recipes.
I knew I wanted to make something Italian in nature, but I also knew I wanted something different and a little more modern, thus the polenta grilled cheese. The tradition is still present in the preparation of the polenta, but the modern flair is added with the bread and melty cheese. It’s a recipe that makes me feel ok about taking a few risks here and there.
Polenta Grilled Cheese
*This recipe is definitely a labor of love, but once the polenta is made you will have it for days, and if you go ahead and slice it and dry it out the day you make it, you can keep it stored in the fridge, ready to re-toast whenever you need it.
For the polenta:
2 c cornmeal (this is important, it has to be stone ground cornmeal, not cornbread mix or cornmeal flour).
10 c water
3 tsp salt
For the grilled cheese:
1 recipe of prepared polenta
1 pound cheese (mozzarella works well, so does cheddar, really anything as long as it melts well, is fine)
bread (if desired, although you could dry out the polenta and use it as the bread)
1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes
10 or so basil leaves
*Important notes: you don’t want lumpy polenta, to help you avoid this if you’re using American cornmeal, you can mix it into cold water, and it won’t lump once you’re ready to mix it into the boiling water.
- Prepare the polenta: Bring 5 c water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Mix the cornmeal in the other 5 c of cold water, stirring rapidly. Once this is smooth, pour the cold mixture slowly into the boiling water. Add the salt. Bring back to a boil, stirring constantly, lower the heat to almost a simmer, and let bubble slowly for 50-60 minutes, stirring constantly (your arm will feel like it’s going to fall off, but I PROMISE it is so worth it). When cooked correctly, polenta is thick, smooth and creamy, and so, so delicious.
- For the grilled cheese: There are 2 methods, the one that is photographed and then another option which I will explain below.
- For the photographed version: Cook and cool the polenta according the directions above (it has to be completely cooled before it’s ready to be sliced), slice into 1/2 inch slices. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread and toast. Warm the polenta either in the oven on a baking sheet, or on the toasted piece of bread. You may then put a slice of cheese on top and let it continue warming in the oven, until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Another way to do this is to dry out your polenta completely: In a 200 degree oven, place the sliced polenta (on a baking sheet). Let it toast in the oven for about 60 minutes. The polenta will dry out, become crispy and substantial enough to hold cheese to melt (without using the bread as the base).
- Top your sandwiches with chopped tomatoes and basil (similar to a bruschetta). The mixture of the creamy polenta with cheese is one that I’d be willing to take risks for every day.