The beauty of polenta is the ease with which a home cook can take it from everyday to special in an instant. –- Maria Speck
This beautifully colored side dish brings just enough opulence to a fall dinner. The sun-dried tomatoes help the polenta take on a lovely auburn or light orange hue. As these days I’m very much interested in experimenting with ancient grains, for me this polenta dish was an elegant Mediterranean twist to our Thanksgiving table. This recipe was adapted from the cookbook Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck.
4 cups water
½ cup coarsely chopped dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup polenta, corn grits, or stone-ground coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
½ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (2 ounces) cubed Fontina cheese
2 ounces shaves Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
To make the polenta, bring the water and sun-dried tomatoes to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Using a large whisk, slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, and continue whisking for 1 more minute. Decrease the heat to maintain a gentle bubble. Cover and cook until the polenta granules swell and become tender, about 25 minutes (30 minutes for coarse cornmeal), stirring vigorously every few minutes with a wooden spoon to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Taste and adjust for salt.
To finish stir in the thyme, sage, and pepper, followed by the fontina cheese. Cover and let sit for 2 minutes to allow cheese to melt. Top with shaved Parmesan cheese and serve right away.
Some sun-dried tomatoes are very salty. Try a small piece in advance and reduce amount of salt if necessary and adjust to taste after cooking. As I prefer not to cook with too much cheese, I decided not to top the polenta with shaved Parmesan cheese. Although the Fontina was a nice and tasty addition, next time I may omit it too.