Polenta Chips with Cumin Aioli

Soft, creamy polenta is a delicious side to accompany meat and poultry dishes (see comfort food page 226), but that’s not all you can do with cooked polenta. It is also wonderful when made into these crunchy polenta chips.

serves 4-6 (makes about 30)

what you need
1 cup (160g) fine ground polenta (cornmeal)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp butter
½ cup (80g) fine ground polenta (cornmeal), extra for coating
6 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 cup aioli (see basics page 42)

what you do
1. Combine the polenta and 5 cups of water in a large saucepan. Cover and set aside for a few hours or overnight - see note.
2. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and gradually bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cover with the lid. Stir every couple of minutes to avoid it sticking to the base of the pan and burning. The polenta will absorb the water and thicken quite quickly and will tend to spit and pop which is why it is best to keep the lid on in between stirring. Cook for 30 minutes. The polenta will thicken further and begin pulling away from the sides of the saucepan as you stir. Remove from the heat, add salt and butter and stir until well absorbed. 
3. Grease a 20cm x 18cm tray with butter. Pour the cooked polenta into the tray and cover with a sheet of non-stick baking paper. Push down to create a smooth even surface and then cover with plastic wrap to make airtight. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
4. Cut the set polenta into 5cm x 2cm batons and coat in the extra polenta. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the polenta chips for about 10 minutes, turning until golden brown on all sides. (Don’t be alarmed if they take a while to colour they are best cooked slowly to avoid burning.) 
5. Stir the cumin into the aioli. Serve polenta chips hot, with cumin aioli for dipping.

Note: Using a ratio of 1 part polenta to 5 parts water or liquid such as milk, vegetable or chicken stock, your cooking time will be 45 minutes to an hour. If you pre-soak the polenta for a few hours prior to cooking, it will reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes. Some believe that by using less water or liquid, they can reduce the cooking time and get a faster result, however this usually results in failure to fully hydrate the cornmeal; meaning your polenta will thicken faster and appear to be cooked, but it will in fact be undercooked and gritty. 

polenta is a cornmeal porridge made from any medium or coarse ground cornmeal. A popular dish in Northern Italy, it is commonly eaten with meat, ragu or cheese and condiments. Polenta can either be eaten when soft and creamy, or cooled down to set firm. Once firm it can be shaped into balls or cut into batons, and baked, grilled or fried in oil until a golden brown colour is achieved. Fried polenta is called “crostini di polenta” or “polenta fritta”. 

©Jane Grover  
Recipe from Our Delicious Adventure – Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel