Last month Alex and I spent a weekend in Philadelphia, which of course included a meal at Vedge (OMG) and a trip to Reading Terminal Market, where we gorged ourselves on all the amazing food, like a pretzel-studded caramel ice cream from Bassett’s that I literally cannot stop thinking about. There’s also a lot of great shopping, and I lingered for a long time at this fancy sundry shop that had the most amazing flavored balsamic vinegars–maple, chocolate, espresso, fig, cranberry… they were super expensive, but I was this close to buying some anyway when I realized they were made in California!
Don’t you hate when that happens? You’re shopping for souvenirs, and fall in love with something, only to realize it’s not even local. When I was in middle school we went on vacation to Belize, and I remember my mom bought something (a serving dish? a scarf?) and then discovered when we got back home that it was made in China. Oh well.
So I didn’t get the vinegar. And it turns out that’s totally fine, because I figured out how to make an even better version on my own. Or rather, Joshua Bousel at Serious Eats did–this is entirely his recipe. I didn’t really change a thing, except to double all the ingredients so there would be more of it.
I know that I’m jumping the gun a bit posting about strawberries on April 1st, but honestly, I just can’t wait any longer. Also, since you’re simmering them with a bunch of other ingredients, I found that the supermarket kind did just fine.
I decided to go the brunch route with this dish, and whipped up some easy orange-scented polenta cakes to go with it. But you could really pair this sauce with anything. It would be great with grilled chicken, salmon, or pork tenderloin. You could serve it over pancakes or waffles, or stir it into yogurt. It would even work as an ice cream topper.
This is a perfect make-ahead dish. The sauce will keep for at least a week, and you can store the polenta in the fridge for a few days, and then just fry the wedges before serving.
Orange Polenta Cakes with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
Serves 4 with plenty of leftover sauce
Sauce adapted from Joshua Bousel via Serious Eats
For the polenta cakes:
1 cup orange juice
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
All-purpose flour (for frying)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
For the sauce:
1 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups coarsely diced strawberries
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
To make the polenta cakes, spray a 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray.
In a medium saucepan, bring the orange juice and 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, vanilla, and maple syrup or honey. Spread the polenta evenly in the prepared pie dish and cool until firm, at least 1 hour. (At this point, the polenta can be covered and chilled in the refrigerator for up to two days.)
To make the sauce, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Add the strawberries, sugar, salt, and lemon zest and simmer until the strawberries have softened and released their juices, about 5 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the strawberries against the side of the pan. Continue to simmer until the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. (Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.)
To assemble and serve, preheat the oven to 200°F and line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a large, nonstick skillet.
Spread the flour on a plate. Cut the polenta into 8 wedges. Working in batches, dredge the wedges in the flour and fry until crispy and golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes a side. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
Serve the polenta wedges topped with the sauce.