Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three-Cheese Polenta (with Braised Beef Shanks)

I hope you Americans out there had a lovely Thanksgiving. I know I did, here in Austin with my family. This year it was just my brother's family and me. It was a very low key affair, but the turkey was beautifully roasted with tender juicy white meat and flavorful dark meat that was not too stringy. I always like to have a little white meat at the Thanksgiving dinner, and then I feast on the dark meat for the next few days. Being the only person who likes the dark meat, I have no competition. After my brother has cleaned the carcass of all edible white meat, it has become my job to take care of the dark meat. I pull the meat off of the wings, thighs and drumsticks. Half of it I cut into smaller pieces that can be frozen and made into pot pies or soup, and the rest of it goes into the fridge to last me through the rest of my visit.

But now that the last of the leftovers are disappearing, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that braising season is now officially upon us. It's the perfect time of year to take that hefty chunk of flavorful meat and simmer it in a pot full of rich, flavorful liquid, then serve it up over a nice mash of potatoes, root vegetables, or polenta, as I have done here. To me, it is one of the most delicious meals in the world.

For a while I was buying instant polenta, which is basically partially cooked and then dried so it only takes 5 minutes on the stove. I cannot tell the difference between the instant polenta and the regular polenta that takes over half an hour and a stirring arm of steel to produce, so I long decided the extra cost of the instant polenta was well worth paying.

And then I saw an episode of Sara Moulton's Weeknight Meals where she baked the polenta in the oven. It looked easy, so I tried it and discovered that it was as easy as it looked. No fuss, no muss, not stirring - what could be better?

Actually, I decided it could be a little bit better. It was a little too soft and pudding-like for me the first time I made it, so I experimented with less cooking liquid until I got the consistency to be just the way I like it. This time, I had little bits of three cheeses left over in the refrigerator so I just grated them all up and threw them in. With spectacular results, I might add.

While delicious with braised beef shanks, polenta can be served with just about any other dish you can imagine. It makes a nice change from mashed potatoes or rice.

You can find my braising method for the beef shanks here.

1 cup cornmeal (fine or stone ground) or polenta (not instant)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Combine the cornmeal, butter, salt and pepper in a 1-1/2 quart baking dish and mix everything together. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and stir well. Put it back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Add the cheeses and stir well until the cheeses have melted and are well mixed into the polenta. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Sara Moulton's Creamy Baked Polenta recipe.

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