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Fried Polenta Sticks with Sage

Fried Polenta Sticks with Sage
The heartiness of polenta makes it a comforting menu addition when autumn's chill sets in. The coarse grains develop their characteristic mushiness when they're mixed with simmering liquid, so reserve some stamina for stirring.

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups polenta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil and safflower oil for deep-frying
  • Fresh herb sprigs for garnish

Directions:

In a heavy saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add the 1 tsp. salt. Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Switch to a wooden spoon, reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer, stirring, until the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the cheese, sage and butter and stir to mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Butter a 9-inch square pan. Pour the hot polenta into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Using a sharp knife, cut the polenta into sticks 3 inches long by 1/2 inch wide. Toss them gently with the flour, dusting lightly.

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 400°F.

Pour equal amounts of the olive and safflower oils into a large, deep fry pan to a depth of 2 inches. Heat on the stovetop on medium-high heat to 375°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Add the polenta sticks a few at a time and fry, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon or tongs, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then keep warm in the oven until all are cooked.

Arrange the polenta sticks on a warmed platter and season with salt. Garnish with herb sprigs and serve immediately.
Makes about 50 polenta sticks; serves 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).