Chilli sweetcorn baked polenta

Here’s my next instalment of ‘what to do with lots of sweetcorn and courgettes at the end of a good summer?’ series. This dish is focused on sweetcorn, and is a double corn recipe using both fresh off the kernels with dried and ground corn.

Polenta

Polenta is one of those products that can delight or dismay, depending on how it’s cooked and the texture. I had never really tried it until I went along to an Italian cooking demo whilst living in India. Yes, you read that right! It might sound a bit random, but there was a great Italian restaurant (called Toscano) in the mall next to our housing compound, run by two French brothers. I know you’d expect them to be Italian, but hey, in that’s how things roll in the awesome global mix that is Bangalore! It was a bit of an expat retreat serving familiar European dishes with an Indian kick (i.e.; lots of chilli) and pizzas that kept the kids more than happy.

As it turned out, I couldn’t actually eat the finished polenta dish they were demonstrating as it contained breadcrumbs, which was a shame but avoiding deep fried food is never a bad thing really. But what I did learn was how to prepare it from scratch and how to maximise flavour without overloading it with butter and cheese, perfect for the dairy free diner.

The top bit of advise, as always, was the simplest – keep tasting until you get it right, and use good quality ingredients. I’ve since lost the recipe demonstrated that day, but I was so glad to see how to make it, plus I gained valuable tips on what to do, and not do, in cooking demos!

I used to get quite confused about the difference between polenta and the ground maize used for Mexican dishes and featuring on mainly American recipe sites. Basically, polenta is ground cornmeal, just slightly more coarse with less of the healthy outer grain removed, so theoretically should contain more fibre and nutrients, but modern processing methods may make that assumption defunct! In the US, it’s often frowned upon as some cornmeal is made from genetically modified corn, plus different coloured corn contains less nutrients. If you want to know more, check out this article to help make things clearer http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-cornmeal-and-polenta-word-of-mouth-211404

The good thing about polenta is that it’s gluten free, so useful if you need to be careful, and still has a useful amount of fibre to help transit the sugar content through. It can be used as a base for other dishes like cakes, bread or crunchy coatings, as well as just made up in it’s own right.

The nutrition in this dish really comes from the fresh corn kernels – those bright yellow buttons are packed with phytonutrients that are good for the eyes and contain anti-oxidants, as well as a load of insoluble fibre that the friendly bacteria in your gut just love to munch on. I used this as an accompaniment to a courgette based chilli dish and they complimented each other perfectly, but you could serve it with a fresh salsa, avocado dip or fresh summer green salad – any rainbow dish will do, for lunch, dinner or a snack. So why not give this a try and let the sun shine from your plate!

Baked chilli polenta

Baked sweetcorn chilli polenta
2 cobs of sweetcorn
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g polenta
750ml vegetable stock
1 heaped teaspoon ground oregano/Italian herbs
1 red chilli finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed chilli
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grab a 23x30cm baking tin, grease and line with baking paper.
Next, cut the corn off the cobs. Heat a dash of olive oil in a medium sized pan and sauté the corn for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t stick. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the polenta and cook for a minute, stirring continually. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly with the heat on low so that it steadily thickens without sticking to the pan. You need to get rid of all the lumps. It’s ready when the texture is smoother and no longer grainy. This takes about 10 minutes or so – be patient and have a cup of tea to hand to keep you going! It should become really thick, but not so thick you can’t move it around, so add a little more stock if needed, but don’t go mad otherwise the mix will be too loose. When you’re happy with the texture, stir in the herbs, chill, baking powder and nutritional yeast if you’re using. Season with salt and pepper and mix really well to make sure everything is combined. Taste and add more flavour as needed. Your could stir in a little extra virgin olive oil as well at this point but it’s not essential.

Spoon the mix out into the prepared baking tin and smooth down the top so it’s equally spread out – a bit tricky as it’s so sticky. With the recommended size tin, it should be about 5cm thick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a dark golden crust has formed. Remove from the oven, rest in the tray for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to firm up. Once it’s cool enough to handle and set, peel off the baking paper and cut into shapes. If it needs warming up, pop back in the oven to warm though for a few minutes and serve. Enjoy!

Sweetcorn salsa with polenta triangles

Fresh, seasonal vegetables are definitely the best – for flavour as well as nutrients. Wednesday is always an exciting day for me as it’s the day my organic veg box arrives on the doorstep (sad, but true!!). Unless I have a stock pile of one particular vegetable, I never check to see what’s coming so it’s always a little surprise to see what gorgeous goodies are going to be on the menu for the next week.

This year, the sweetcorn has been amazing – swollen, juicy sweet cobs so packed full of flavour that just boiling and eating straight off the cob with a sprinkling of black pepper is usually all that’s required. But at the weekend, I decided to zing it up a bit, and went for this fabulous sweetcorn salsa.

Since my son has stopped eating wheat (to help deal with his terrible eczema), I have been experimenting with wheat free options. Whilst wheat free bread is readily available in the supermarkets, I’m not convinced about relying on it as a major food replacement due to the horrendously long list of ingredients on the packet, as well as the horribly expensive price tag! Polenta, or cornmeal, is a pretty new to me. Whilst in India, I went to a number of different cooking demonstrations, including some at our local Italian restaurant, Toscano’s; Italian in India may seem a little odd, but they serve up gorgeous food, some of it with an Indian twist (spicy!). One of the dishes was polenta triangle covered with bread crumbs and then deep-fried. Unfortunately, the breadcrumb covering meant I couldn’t try the complete dish (yeast!), but apparently it was gorgeous, with the crispy crumbs complementing soft, creamy polenta inside.  For lunch, they served me just the polenta triangles lightly pan fried, and I was surprised to find they still tasted delicious and had a good texture.

I’ve been meaning to try this for myself ever since, and I finally got around to it at the weekend. Polenta as a basic food stuff is pretty good for you, although being dried and ground it probably isn’t a whole food product. It’s cornmeal, so seemed to go well with the sweetcorn salsa.

The rich yellow colour of corn means it’s carrying great amounts of beta-carotene and caroteninoids as well as a good dollop of vitamin C, B6, iron and magnesium. It has a reasonable amount of fibre and apparently it can help support the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines, which is great news. In the States, a lot of corn is GM, so check where it’s from, or buy organic.

Polenta dishes can be transformed from relatively healthy to high fat junk – it’s what you add to it that makes all the difference. It does take about 20 minutes to make and then a couple of hours to set, so if you haven’t got time, you can buy ready made in packs, but there’s added preservatives and salt, so beware! I wanted to keep mine simple, so I just added vegetable stock (yeast free of course) and some dried herbs; this give a lovely, subtle flavour.

This dish is a fabulous light lunch or a great plant based, dairy free, wheat free starter that is packed with both taste and nutrients – give it a go and see what you think.

Polenta triangles
1 cup polenta
5 cups vegetable stock
1 tspoon dried herbs (I used oregano and parsley)
Bring the vegetable stock and herbs to the boil in a large pan then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking all the time. Cook, stirring continuously, until all the stock is absorbed and the mixture becomes really thick and creamy (about 20 minutes or so). Line a medium sized baking tray with greaseproof paper and pour in the mixture, spreading it out to the edges. Place in the fridge to set – 1-2 hours.
Once set, take the polenta out of the tin with the greaseproof paper and cut into squares, then triangles. Heat a dash of olive oil in a large frying pan and toast both sides for a few minutes until slightly coloured.

Sweetcorn salsa
2 sweetcorn cobs, husk removed or 200g frozen sweetcorn
kernels defrosted
2 avocados, diced
4 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1-2 red chillis, deseeded and chopped
large handful coriander leaves, chopped
4 tbspoons lime juice
salt to taste

If you are using sweetcorn cobs, place a griddle pan on a medium heat and toast the sweetcorn on the cob until slightly browned. Make sure you turn it regularly.

Leave until cool enough to handle, then cut off the cobs with a sharp knife. If using frozen sweetcorn, ensure it’s fully defrosted.

Prepare the tomatoes, avocado, chilli and coriander leaves and put in a bowl with the sweetcorn. Once your polenta triangles are ready, add the lime juice and salt, and serve. Enjoy!