Polenta was a dish unknown to me until a few years ago. It is a dish that my Italian in-laws relate to the depression era after I served it to them on their last visit; to my surprise they did not like polenta. And they might well be right about this association as I know now that historically, polenta has been food for the simple people. According to my in-laws polenta “is great depression food”; no doubt to me that it might have well been a nourishing food for millions of hungry people during the great depression. Polenta is an old food – – during the Roman Empire polenta was made out of grains such as faro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt or chickpeas and the tradition of serving polenta to multitudes of people continue today with ground corn.
Before we move to making our Soft Polenta with Shrimp a la catalane there are two things I learned about polenta that I want to explain. The first is that polenta is not regular corn meal so I advise no substitute; polenta is a courser grind which could be found in most specialty, whole health, and Italian stores in the United States; sometimes you can find it in your regular supermarket. Secondly, in order to achieve or serve a soft polenta it is important to know that it must be prepared right before serving and it must be served warm. The reason for this is that polenta settles once it cools down. I used a Dutch oven pot and wooded spoon to stir it. This is something I do when working with corn derived products. Also, keep in mind that water, chicken stock, cream or milk can be added to adjust consistence or add flavors. Strangely enough I like my polenta plain and simple, no cheese or cream, yes a little bit of butter or olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper is good for me. However, with this polenta I went a little bit out by adding goat cheese and heavy cream in order to please my family. Trust me, there were no disappointments.
As any other starch polenta can be accompany with anything from chicken to beef stews to seafood. I decided to accompany this dish with a shrimp a la Catalan and added fresh corn and chipotle sauce in order to bring together the Latin flavors into this Mediterranean dish. Remember, polenta can really feed many and it is easy to have left overs. I had left over polenta which I poured into a long bread mold and saved for later. With that said let’s see how to prepare it. Enjoy!
- For the polenta:
- 2 cups of good polenta
- 6 cups water
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 laurel leaf
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 ounces goat cheese
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- For the Catalan shrimps:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon chipotle in sauce (blended with the lime juice)
- 1 lime juice or a few tablespoons of white wine
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 ½ pounds shrimps (clean and deveined)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Chives or parsley (more for garnishing)
For the polenta:
Soaked the polenta overnight with 3 cups of water; in a saucepan add the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Incorporate the soaked polenta including the water or if changed add exactly 3 cups of water.
Add the sugar, salt and laurel leaf. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Cook the polenta for about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir in the butter, goat cheese and heavy cream and continue stirring until everything is incorporated.
Adjust salt according to taste. Serve immediately or keep it warm to avoid the polenta from hardening or setting. If it is to be served later press down onto surface of polenta a wax paper to avoid a coating from developing and keep it warm in a Bain Marie.
For the shrimp ala Catalane:
In a large skillet add the butter and olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Blend together the chipotle with the lime juice or wine and add to the skillet. Add the paprika and cook for a minute.
Add the shrimp and stir. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the chives or parsley reserving more for garnishing. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over warm polenta and garnish with fresh chives or parsley.
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