Sunday was yet another of our patented too-busy days. Marion spent much of it digging in the garden of our new old house. As Marion tells it, most of what she is doing now isn’t gardening, but getting ready to garden. Digging up and hauling away tons of debris from the demolition and rehab of the house – nails, shards of glass, wire, chunks of wood and plaster. She’s also unearthed countless marbles, coins of various denominations and vintages (including an Indian Head nickel too ruined to reveal its age), a small (and unfortunately broken) glass bottle shaped like an automobile.
Some actual gardening has occurred in the midst of all this yard reclamation and soil restoration. As I mentioned a month or so ago, our reluctant basil plants suddenly went crazy on us. So one of my tasks on Sunday was cutting them back, harvesting leaves and grinding up as many batches of pesto as I could stand and freezing them.
Of course, we still needed to eat lunch. Working with stuff on hand, it became a joint minimal effort. Something had recently put the polenta bee in my bonnet, so I had a tube of the store-bought cooked variety in the fridge. Also there were caramelized onions Marion had made for another meal. And some fresh mozzarella not getting any younger. Those all sounded good together, but also like they wanted one other thing. A little bacon or some chopped tomato might have been good, but we didn’t have those. What we did have was apricot jam. Done.
Polenta is one of those satisfying, versatile dishes/ingredients I always seem to forget about. I’ve made creamy versions on occasion, but never cooked it ahead, let it cool overnight, then cut it into slabs and fried it. And to be honest, that’s not what I did this time. But that’s why they sell tubes of the precooked stuff. In fact, one time when I was looking for some uncooked polenta to make a creamy batch, it was far harder to find than the tubes.
As you can see in the top photo, the rounds of polenta with their mozzarella, caramelized onions and apricot jam look more like appetizers than lunch. But with an arugula salad on the side, they did the job – so we could get back to doing ours.
What follows is a recipe of sorts. Please feel free to improvise, including cooking your own polenta, spreading it on a baking sheet to chill overnight in the fridge and cutting it into squares to fry.
Fried Polenta with Caramelized Onions, Mozzarella and Apricot Jam
Makes about 15
For the caramelized onions:
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced (3-1/2 to 4 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the polenta:
1 1-pound tube cooked polenta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
fresh mozzarella (6 to 8 ounces – you’ll have leftovers)
Caramelize the onions. Heat butter and oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-low flame until it shimmers. Add onions and toss to thoroughly coat with oil. Don’t worry if onions are crowding the pan – they will cook down considerably. Cook onions slowly, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes to avoid burning, for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye (and nose) on the onions. If they start to burn, reduce heat further – low heat and patience are key when caramelizing onions. Set aside.
You can make the onions a couple of days ahead and refrigerate them in an airtight container. Reheat gently before using with the polenta. This recipe will make more onions than you need, which is not a bad thing. Serve them on cooked chops, tossed with pasta, over scrambled eggs…
Cook the polenta. Slice the cooked polenta into rounds, about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick. Heat the butter and oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high flame. When the pan is good and hot, fry the polenta rounds until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. You’ll probably need to do two batches. They won’t get the browned spots and edges you sometimes see, but they will be golden and delicious.
Assemble. Plate the still warm polenta rounds and top with thin slices of mozzarella. Add warmed caramelized onions and top with a dollop of apricot jam. The heat of the polenta and the onions will cause the mozzarella to melt slightly, becoming nicely chewy. Serve.
If you’re being fancy, eat with a fork. If not, use your hands and lick the buttery goodness off your fingers.
Related post on The Blue Kitchen: Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Fried Capers