Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Polenta - Food of the Gods

I came to polenta a little late in life. And when I did start looking for it in New Zealand supermarkets, I was either greeted with blank faces or an overly-packaged 'gourmet-style' product with a price tag to match. Returning to England where I had first met polenta, I found it sold in large unglamorous bags for a pound or so at the tiny grocer near my friend's west London home.

Thankfully this versatile ground corn product is sold in a similar fashion at grocers I can walk to in Sydney. Thankfully, because polenta is the perfect baby food. And I love to cook with it.

Billie has already met polenta in various incarnations. First of all it was runny and smooth like a porridge. I had to add extra water for hers and even blend it a little to make it easy for her to swallow. She's had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Now she's matured in her polenta eating and can eat it straight out of the pot, or cooled in a tray and cut into chunks.

Before making this delicious pie below I simply spooned a bit of the polenta into her bowl for her dinner.


250g polenta (regular or instant is fine)
1.5 litres of water
1 large or two small aubergines (eggplant)
1 tin tomatoes
1 small chili or 1/4 tspn ground chili
2 tblspns tomato paste
1 tblspn fresh oregano
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grated strong cheddar or parmesan

Prepare the polenta first:
Grease a large oven tray. Bring water to boil in large pot. Sprinkle polenta in slowly by holding handfuls up high and releasing. Stir with wooden spoon between each handful. Turn heat to low and stir continuously. Whether regular or instant, the polenta will cook very quickly. (So don't bother buying instant, regular is supposed to be superior taste-wise). Remove from heat as soon as you can stand the spoon up in it. Whip through a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tspn salt, after spooning out some for any baby around. Spread into oven tray and smooth with spoon. Leave to cool at room temperature, then cut into large squares.

Prepare the aubergines by slicing into 1cm rounds. Sprinkle with salt and place in colander with a weight on top. This drains them of bitter juices and makes them more crispy.

Meanwhile, make the red sauce. Heat oil in small heavy pot. Drop in garlic and chili and turn heat to low. When lightly browned add tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and the juice. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 25 mins.

Wipe aubergine slices and brush both sides with olive oil. Place on an oven tray in a single layer and bake in hot oven for 25-30 mins, or until golden and crispy. Check them half way through as some will be done and the rest will need turning.

Grease a 25cm x 25cm oven dish and layer up. Start with a thin layer of sauce, then polenta squares (they don't need to be flush, gaps or overlapping is fine), aubergine, and lastly a bit of cheese on top of each round. Repeat, and top it off with an extra layer of sauce and cheese.

Bake in hot oven (about 220) for 30-40 mins. It's tempting to take it out sooner, knowing that all the ingredients are pre-cooked. We did this, and then found it was far better last night reheated, when the pie had a chance to really consolidate and get crispy.


  1. I should make polenta more often but whenever I suggset it to Petrina she screws her nose up at it. In fact I don't think Paul has had polenta. I might make some this weekend. I love grilling it and getting it all brown and crispy.
    Julie Buiso has some good polenta recipes in her Italian food book. Like this pie with mushrooms or eggplant or tomato.

  2. Yes I love that book. Actually, I probably should have acknowledged it as an inspiration here. Petrina's missing out - such an easy quick food

  3. hey Sarah, browsing thru your blog, congrats, its amazing and will refer other Mums focusing on healthy food - just love this polenta bake idea and will do it on weekend & let you know how it works out.

  4. Yay! Welcome Alison and thank you. Please keep me posted