Aha! if this photo could speak … notice a glass of martini on the left? I needed one … that’s all I can say. I was getting a trifle flustered, at this stage, about 6 :30 p.m. shall we say, what with preparing dinner for 12 and not knowing at what time exactly the guests would be arriving (two were landing that very evening at a nearby airport, and another was driving down from Siena) and the weather being foul and blustery and rainy and cold. I had therefore very sensibly decided on a menu that was made up of oven-cooked foods and, also, dishes that could be warmed up … just in case some guests arrived a lot later than others. One of these life-saving dishes is the subject of this post and I have called it a polenta casserole. It includes cabbage (which needs to be blanched first), one of my favourite cheeses from the north of Italy called Fontina, and some onions. Easy peasy. Another boon is that it is vegetarian friendly.
There was no way I could take a photo and pour the polenta into the boiling water at the same time. This is a few seconds later. Follow the instructions on the packet – but basically, the trick is to chuck the polenta in the pot all in one go, and use a sturdy wooden spoon to stir and stir and stir so that you avoid those unspeakable lumps of polenta that can make even the strongest among us gag. One suggestion, however, that you must NOT follow is the fanciful idea of cooking the polenta for 40 minutes or more. Nonsense. I got this straight from the horse’s mouth, from chef Sandro Masci of the “Les Chefs Blancs” culinary school of Rome and former Gamero Rosso teacher. He told us that 20 minutes was quite sufficient. This is good news, folks! Put polenta on your list of dishes, now that you know it only requires 20 minutes cooking time.
Put the polenta casserole in a fairly hot oven (say 200°C) for about 35-40 minutes and serve piping hot. The cheese melts and goes runny and, eaten hot, this casserole is very warming on a cold winter’s night. (The other dish in the oven covered in foil contained … baked beans).
If you have any leftovers … you can warm them up again the following day: