Think of a mouth full of creamy and savory polenta deliciousness with a wisp of its grilled crunchy surround. Top it with a tart, juicy, sweet layer of fruity wine pickled onion, and add the rich pungent fullness of ripe gorgonzola cheese crumbles, and grassy aromatic fresh herbs. This beautiful and delectable “Crostini”, Italian for “little crust”, my rendition made with polenta, is enigmatic of traditional Northern Italian Cuisine, morphed by international fusion. It is perfect for any size party because of its wow factor and ease of assembly.
Currently, polenta is known as a corn based recipe, though originally it was made from aggregate grains and legumes mixed with various flavorings of vegetables, meats, herbs and spices. The beauty of its contrivance is that it can be as simple and easy or as complex as you choose it to be. What counts is flavor and eye appeal. You can start from scratch, buy a quick cook variety, or buy a tube of pre-made polenta. Which ever you choose, follow package directions and add some of your own imagination and flavor. Slice and grill the chilled firm polenta as a platform for countless accouterments. Build your own creation from there.
Keeping in mind that the basic proportion for cooking polenta from scratch is three parts water or broth to one part corn flour, here is my rendition of a fun, beautiful and delicious grilled or pan fried polenta appetizer.
- 2 cups yellow corn flour
- 6 cups salted water to taste, or light colored broth
- 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced shallot
- 1/4 cup minced red bell pepper, no seeds or ribs
- 1/4 cup finely minced jalepeno pepper, no seeds or ribs
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro, parsley, or your herb of choice
- in a 3-4 quart pot, saute vegetables in half of the olive oil on medium low heat until soft, reserving chopped herbs.
- Add water to the pot, turning up the heat to bring it to a boil.
- Add the corn flour slowly while stirring until the mixture amalgamates and thickens, lowering heat as needed to avoid sticking, about 20-30 minutes.
- Stir chopped herbs into the mix quickly.
- Pour onto a greased 1/2 sheet or jelly-roll pan and smooth with an off set spatula to even out the thickness.
- Let cool until very firm, about one hour. You can speed the process in the refrigerator.
- Cover with waxed paper and turn out onto a cutting board rapping on the bottom of the pan sharply.
- Cut into desired size and shapes with a knife or cookie/ biscuit cutter.
- Grill in a well oiled pan, or under or over a flame until golden brown and crusty.
Wine Pickled Onions
- 2 small red onions
- 1 cup pomegranate juice or any clear red pure fruit juice
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves (6-8)
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked allspice berries (3-4)
- 2 small white onions
- 1 cup white grape juice
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
- Julienne onions into points by cutting them in half length wise, peel off skin and tough outer layers, then continue slicing them end to end into crescents with the widest center measure at about 1/4 inch.
- Separately, in two one quart sauce pans, bring all ingredients of red and white pickling elements, except the onions, to a boil stirring to homogenize the flavors.
- Add the onions to their respective pickles, and continue to boil, reducing the heat slightly to slow evaporation, until they absorb color and flavor but are still slightly crunchy, 5-10 minutes.
- Drain, reserving liquid for another time. Cool separately on two trays to keep colors from touching each other, single layer in the refrigerator.
- Cover with plastic wrap, once cooled. Keep refrigerated until use.
- Store leftover pickled onions in sealed jars with a small amount of their liquid. They are delicious added to many dishes.
Building Ingredients and Styling Tips
- Grilled Polenta Rounds
- Red & White Pickled Onions
- Gorgonzola crumbles
- Sprigs and leaves of your favorite herb for garnish
Building the appetizers are pretty self explanatory using the photo image as reference. Using your innate intuitive sense, somewhat alternate the white and red pickled onions a top the crostini rounds in a circular spiraling swirl. Top each round with a proportionate amount of Gorgonzola crumbles and garnish with small herbal leaves or sprigs.