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Grilled Polenta with Fennel Salad

For this recipe, polenta is cooked, spread in a pan to cool and firm up, and then cut into triangles and grilled. The cornmeal becomes a crisp, golden counterpoint to a cool and crunchy fennel salad. You can also use the grilled polenta triangles as a base for savory toppings, such as sautéed mushrooms or melted Gorgonzola cheese.

Ingredients:

For the polenta: 

  • 1 1/2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal 
  • 4 cups water 
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt  
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • Olive oil for brushing 
  •   

For the fennel salad: 

  • 2 small fennel bulbs 
  • 1 small red onion 
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted Kalamata olives 
  • 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar 
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil 
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt  
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

Directions:

To make the polenta, put the cornmeal in a deep saucepan and gradually whisk in the water, then whisk in the salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking often. Reduce the heat to low and cover partially. Cook at a very slow simmer, stirring often, until the polenta is very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and season generously with pepper.

Lightly brush an 8-inch square baking pan with olive oil. Spoon the hot polenta into the pan and smooth it evenly to the edges with the back of a spoon dipped in water to ease spreading. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for about 24 hours.

Invert the pan of polenta onto a cutting board and tap the bottom to release the polenta. Using a long knife, trim the edges even. Cut into 4 squares, then cut each square in half on the diagonal, making 8 triangles. Pat dry with paper towels.

To make the fennel salad, trim off the stalks and fronds from the fennel bulbs. Finely chop and reserve 2 Tbs. of the fronds. Trim away any bruised outer layers from the bulbs. Using a mandoline, sharp knife or a box grater-shredder with a slicing blade, thinly shave the fennel bulbs and then the onion.

In a bowl, toss together the fennel, onion, reserved fennel fronds, olives, vinegar, olive oil, sugar and salt. Season generously with pepper.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Oil the grill rack.

Brush the polenta triangles lightly all over with olive oil. Place the polenta triangles over the hottest part of the fire and cook, carefully turning once with a large spatula, until crisp and nicely grill-marked, about 5 minutes per side.

Place 1 triangle on each small individual plate. Spoon the fennel salad over or alongside the polenta triangles, dividing it evenly. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Grilling, by Denis Kelly, Melanie Barnard, Barbara Grunes & Michael McLaughlin (Oxmoor House, 2003).