Don’t Cry For Me Baked Polenta “Leftovers”

three cheese baked polentaWe have never really discussed leftovers before.

I never throw food away if I can avoid it. But I would not want to have the same exact meal 2 nights in a row just in the interest of using up all that food.

So what I do is use the leftovers as ingredients in another, completely different, delicious meal.

Take last nights Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragoût. I made more than plenty for just the 2 of us. There are plenty of mushrooms left over. They can easily enhance a quick pasta dinner. I will boil up a little penne and toss it with some chopped broccoli that has been quickly seared in olive oil. I’ll add some browned garlic slices and red pepper flakes. Then, I’ll simply toss the mushrooms into the hot pasta mixture. They won’t even need re-heating!

As for the polenta, if you used the real deal you put a considerable amount of time stirring those coarse-grains. If you are going to stand there stirring for 40 minutes, you may as well make plenty. Why do it twice?

That’s what I thought. So I made twice as much polenta as I needed last night. Now here it is the next day, and I have enough mushrooms and enough polenta to use in another meal for 4. I told you my plans for the mushrooms. But what about the polenta?

I think I will use it as a first course for a casual meal we are having with friends tonight. We gotta watch “Idol” right? We may as well eat while we do it!

pepping polenta to be bakedI am going to take that polenta and bake it with cheese. I’ll top it with the simplest of red sauces. My friends will never guess they are eating leftovers. Unless they read this blog. Which they don’t (I know that kinda gets my guff too!).

I am going to call this “leftover”: Three Cheese Baked Polenta.

The three cheeses are: Gorgonzola, Taleggio and Parmesan.

I think the combination of the three cheeses will work well. They should compliment each other and add a super rich bit of luxury to an otherwise simple dish.
layer 2 of baked polenta
Gorgonzola is an Italian style blue cheese. It is made from un-skimmed cow’s milk. Mine is quite crumbly and salty. It has that familiar ‘bite’ you expect of blue cheese. You could use any blue cheese as a substitute.

Taleggio is another Italian cheese made from cows milk. It has a strong cheesy aroma, but a soft almost fruity flavor.  It melts beautifully. It will ooze all over the plate and will add depth to the flavor by offsetting the Gorgonzola. If you can’t find Taleggio you could use plastic wrap to spread polentaalso use Brie or Gruyere.

Parmesan will be added on top of the polenta before it’s baked, adding a crunchy, nutty texture to each bite of this dish. There is no worthy substitute for Parmesan. Besides I know you have it.

Of course you could make polenta specifically for this dish. To serve 4 people you would need 1 cup of uncooked polenta boiled in 3 cups of water. A little cheese or butter as an addition at the end is a good idea.

simple red sauce for polentaHowever, I am using leftover polenta that has been in the refrigerator overnight and is quite malleable, and quite a lot firmer than in was last night.

Start by lightly oiling the tops and sides of a shallow 9x11 inch baking dish. Using the back of a spoon spread about 1/2 inch of polenta all over the bottom. Crumble and dollop about 5 ounces Gorgonzola and 5 ounces of Taleggio evenly across the surface of the polenta layer.

Add the rest of the polenta spreading it over the cheese with the back of a spoon. Work carefully to ensure that the cheese is completely covered. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over the top layer of polenta, and using the palms of your hands compact the polenta as baked polenta with tomato sauceevenly and firmly as possible.

The polenta may be made ahead to this point for up to 24 hours in advance. In fact it makes the polenta firmer and easier to cut after baking.

To make the tomato sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add two garlic cloves that have been thinly sliced. Cook these gently until just beginning to brown. Add one 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and a little salt. Go gently on the salt because some brands of tomatoes are too salty to begin with. Add about 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves and simmer this about 1/2 hour, until reduced to a sauce baked polenta on a rack

When you are ready to bake the polenta. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pour the prepared tomato sauce over the top of the polenta and sprinkle 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake the polenta for 30 minutes until it is browned and bubbly.

Remove the polenta to cool on a wire rack for about 1/2 hour. It should firm up as it cools.

To serve, slice the baked polenta into serving sized portions and plate alongside an baked polenta with 3 cheese and tomato saucearugula salad. The first piece may be difficult to remove from the tray neatly. You may want to set it aside as a post party treat for the cook. But the other slices should come out easier.

A perfectly baked polenta will hold it shape, but oh… so… barely. It may sag a bit under it’s own weight and it will ooze plenty of cheese all over the plate. Am I crying over “leftovers”?


Greg Henry