Looking for an easy appetizer? Claudia Roden shares these delicious bites in her latest cookbook, “Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes From a Lifetime of Travel,” and the recipes (including this one!) fit right into the Seriously Simple philosophy.
Polenta was originally cooked and served as a porridge to feed poor northern Italian peasantry, and Roden reminds us that in the 1980s, corn polenta was cut into triangles and grilled to become a creamy, crusty base for elegant food artfully placed on top. With this recipe, the author has given this classic peasant dish a fresh look as a bite of polenta-cheese perfection to accompany cocktails or sparkling wine.
I love the flavor combination of Parmesan and taleggio along with fresh rosemary. Remember, you can make the polenta the day before, then cut it into cubes and roast them just before serving. You can also cut these into larger shapes to accompany any main course, such as sausages, chicken, or beef.
I’m planning on serving these bites for a New Year’s Eve party and saving any remaining for the next day. They would also be a good appetizer watching any TV sporting event.
Roasted Cheese Polenta Cubes
Makes about 32 cubes
- Olive oil or sunflower oil for brushing, plus 1/4 cup
- 4 cups water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 cups instant polenta
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
- 1 cup diced semisoft cheese such as fontina or taleggio
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
- Black pepper
Line an 8-by-12-inch baking pan with foil; if you have a larger pan, line it with foil that you can fold up to contain the polenta in a layer about 1 inch thick. Brush with oil.
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a very large saucepan. Pour in the polenta, whisking vigorously. When it comes back to a boil, lower the heat and continue to stir with the whisk for 3 minutes, making sure that no lumps form. It will gurgle and splatter, so you might need to put a cloth around your hand.
Add both cheeses, the rosemary, and some pepper, and whisk well to make sure the cheese melts evenly. Cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour the polenta into the prepared pan, let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Half an hour before serving, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
Cut the polenta into cubes with a sharp knife. Pour the 1/4 cup oil into another, larger, baking dish or roasting pan, and tip the polenta cubes into it, then turn them in the oil to coat on all sides. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely crisp and golden, turning them over once. Serve hot.
Photography and recipe courtesy of “Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes From a Lifetime of Travel.” Ten Speed Books, 2021.