There are those days, when you feel like indulging a heavier dish. I guess we all experience these times, especially after a long hard working day or when we feel like treating ourselves like kings and queens, as for example for a Sunday dinner. Yesterday, I had one of those days, so I cooked and baked a layered Polenta Casserole.
I am the kind of person who enjoys all those stuffed or layered food dishes. So, I try to come up with new ideas or I simply follow some of the recipes I learned over the years. I remake a dish that we both enjoy again and again, but always with a little change. It comes to that, because sometimes I don’t have the right ingredients at home, but I am craving for a particular dish. This type of cases require some kind of innovative ideas, a little bit of Mojo!
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In my mind there are 2 main flavor categories (I am not counting the sweets!), one is the spicy variation and the other one, can you guess it, the herbal variance. A herbal seasoning reminds us of Europe, the Mediterranean sea and maybe North America and Australia. Spices on the other hand, remind us of hot and sometimes even sour Asian, African and South American plates. Now, that’s how I see it and maybe a couple of more people out there might just agree. Even I haven’t traveled every single place in the world, in fact I am far off achieving that so soon, but in general those flavors could be given those “locations”.
Of course, the globalization had a huge impact on the local food culture. Take Britain for example. I heard that the curry is one of those most eaten dishes there, Germany’s favorite Fast food is the Curry Wurst and the Turkish Döner and Australia is heavily influenced by the neighboring Asian countries.
Me being a global citizen, I try to learn from the world cuisine as much as possible. That is why I called my Blog Masala Herb. Masala standing for the spicy, complicated, rich Asian cuisine and Herb for my European Heritage. Not sure if I had mentioned that last year, when I had started up this little online space here. Often, especially in Europe, I am asked what the name stands for, so this question should be cleared now. =)
Coming back towards my layered Polenta creation…
This baked delight, got some Mediterranean essence in each layer, meaning, it is a herbal based dish. What comes to your mind if you think of the southern European countries? I bet, the first thing that crosses your mind will be Olive, Tomatoes and herbs such as Basil and Oregano. Well, you are right! Although this recipe doesn’t call for Oregano, but otherwise Oregano or Marjoram are always somewhere in the Italian cuisine for instance.
Apropos Italy! Some of us haven’t heard of Polenta before. Polenta is a typical Italian, middle European maize (cornmeal) porridge type. Before maize was introduced in Europe, it was made of other ingredients such as chestnut flour or millet. Already the great Romans had developed a liking for it in Ancient times and till today’s day it is often served in the Italian and Middle European homes. Polenta is cooked with liquids such as water, stocks or milk for a couple of minutes. It’s a very quick side dish to prepare and you can easily alter the flavors to your liking. Polenta exists in different types, some are very finely ground some are more coarse, all that depend from where it originated.
Two years ago, Polenta was introduced in the western style shops in Goa, India. Until now I have only come across the typical Italian version here, but if I have a choice I would always go for the one originating from Austria, simply because I grew up with this particular type. My dad doesn’t enjoy the Italian one that much so my mum would always buy the”local” Polenta meal. Normally we would prepare it as a side with other meat dishes, but you can have it in a Veg way as well.
Please, please please… use ONLY quality ingredients for this dish. We get those awesome non-pitted black Cretan Olives here, and the olives are THE ingredient in this recipe. Unfortunately, ham is a problem in India. A company here had started to sell ham 3 years ago in Goa, now the same company’s hams quality has turned absolutely disgusting. At the beginning they come up with great products and with time they don’t even care to remove fat balls, I am not talking about the “acceptable” smooth fat here, but rather of those unchewable weird tasting ones. Of course don’t forget to get some good Tomatoes and Cheese as well.
- 100 g Polenta
- 125 ml Water
- 125 ml Milk
- 2 Tbs Butter + some for buttering the oven dish
- pinch Salt
- pinch Pepper
- Olive Oil to fry
- 1 Onion
- 4 big Garlic Cloves
- 10 Black Olives with core
- 4 big Tomatoes
- 2 Ham slices
- 3 Tbs Tomato Paste
- pinch Salt
- pinch Pepper
- couple of fresh Basil leaves
- 1½ Tbs Butter
- 1 Tbs White Flour
- 350 ml Milk
- pinch Salt
- pinch Pepper
- Handful Raclette Cheese or similar melting cheese type such as Gruyère, Tilsit, Morbier,...
- For the Polenta layer, add to the Polenta meal, the water, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Keep on low heat and stir continuesly. Keep your attention towards the Polenta, cause it can burn on really quickly at the bottom and it is made in a jiffy. Remove it from the heat once it starts to boil up.
- Butter your oven dish well and spread half amount of the polenta to a ½ cm thin layer. Keep the oven dish aside.
- Next is the Tomato sauce. If you use normal Tomatoes, you have to get rid of the skin. Do that, by boiling some water and placing the tomatoes into the water for a few minutes, till you can see that the skin is detaching. You call that process blanching. Take the tomatoes out and now simply remove the skin, it should get off easily. Roughly chop the tomato flesh and keep aside.
- Continue by slicing the Onion thine and by chopping the Garlic small. Take the Olives and discard the core. Chop the Olive flesh small. Cut the Ham slices into small squares.
- In a frying pan add some olive Oil and fry the Onion and Garlic together. Once the Onion is translucent add the Olive, Tomato and then the Ham as well. Fry and stir occasional for 5 minutes then add the Tomato paste, Salt and Pepper. Keep it on slow flame stirring every now and then for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep aside.
- Chop the Basil and keep aside.
- For the white sauce, add the Butter to a pan and melt it on slow heat. See that the butter doesn't burn on and continue adding in the White flour. Keep on stirring, best with a whisk on slow heat, then pour in the whole amount of the milk. Always keep on the heat! Stir well, season and keep on whisking the sauce till it gets thicker by itself. Remove from the heat and keep aside.
- Now we will assemble the layers. The first layer, Polenta, was added to the beginning. Now sprinkle all the chopped Basil on top of the first Polenta layer. Next is the Tomato layer, spread the whole amount evenly. After that continue with the last layer of Polenta, use all the Polenta thats left and spread this one evenly as well. The next one is the White Sauce and last we garnish the whole thing with a good layer of grated Cheese.
- Now place the dish into the oven for 15 minutes at 180 Celsius. Enjoy it hot as a stand alone dish or serve it with a salad at the side.