When we lived in Brooklyn, sometimes on my way home from work I would stop at this fancy gourmet shop not too far from the subway. They had unbelievable prepared foods, with unbelievable prices to match. I’ll never forget the time their sidewalk sign advertized a special: “Buy 9 sandwiches and get the 10th for $10.” Alex still laughs about their $9 artisanal graham crackers. Ah, Brooklyn. In some ways I miss you dearly. In others, not so much.
Something I do miss, though, is their polenta cakes. They were fat and crispy on the outside, with golden-brown edges, and a creamy, cheesy interior. They were flavorful enough to be eaten alone, but even better topped with chunky tomato sauce or a pile of sautéed mushrooms. Polenta cakes are not rocket science. I probably should have made my own. But these were just so good I couldn’t help myself, even at their wince-worthy price.
These polenta cakes are very different then the ones we got in Brooklyn, but I think they are just as delicious. With no cream or cheese, they are much healthier–you don’t need to think of them as a special occasion indulgence. Plus, they’re downright budget friendly. All you need is some vegetable broth, cornmeal, herbs, nuts, and spices.
Polenta cakes make a terrific cold-weather weeknight meal. They are hearty and comforting, and you can prepare them ahead. You can make the polenta up to two days in advance and then just fry the individual slices right before dinner. Feel free to play with the nuts and herbs. I can’t wait to try this with hazelnuts. I served these cakes with slow-roasted tomatoes and a big kale salad. Use any chunky sauce you like.
Walnut Rosemary Polenta Cakes
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Bon Appetit
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or a mix of broth, white wine, or water)
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
Spray a 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray.
In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable broth 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, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, olive oil, and nutritional yeast (if using). Stir in the rosemary and walnuts. 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.
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.