Grilled Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes and Italian Salsa Verde
If you go through the Meatwave archives, I bet you'll find a post each year around this time the exults the arrival of tomato season. It's hard for me to understate just how much I love the two or three months a years when the farmer's market tables overflow with tomatoes that are all incredibly sweet and juicy, and during this period, I try to cook with tomatoes as much as possible. This recipe for grilled polenta with fresh tomatoes and Italian salsa verde was really born out of the desire to find another excuse to use tomatoes at the start of the season, but also represented a chance to fix a grilled polenta recipe I worked on about five years ago that didn't really turn out quite right.
When I took my initial crack at grilling polenta, it was literally the first time I had ever attempted to make this thick Italian cornmeal dish at all and it turned out a bit too soft, as well as more bland, than I was expecting. So that gave a couple directives in working out a better recipe, and for the flavor, I amped that up with garlic, which I lightly fried first to embed the oil with a rich garlicky flavor that could permeate throughout the entire dish.
To fix the softness issue, I paid closer attention to cooking. I made sure to slowly cook the cornmeal until it felt sufficiently thick, yet tender, which took a about twenty minutes total.
I then removed the polenta from the heat and stirred in a hearty portion of grated parmesan, which, along with the garlic, would serve to create a very flavorful end product.
I then transferred the polenta to a pan—a springform to be exact, to make is easier to remove—and started the process of cooling and hardening that's needed to make this stuff grill-able. I let the polenta first sit on a wire rack until it was no longer hot, then transferred it to the fridge to chill completely, about three hours.
While the polenta was in the fridge, I put together my Italian salsa verde. If you've never tried this sauce before, you're missing out—it's a powerhouse of flavor. Parsley is the green base, but that pretty neutral parsley flavor is lifted up by some strong players like capers, anchovies, lemon, and garlic. It comes together to be a really savory and intensely bright sauce with a bit of a surprising briny kick that's unique and excellent.
I can say pretty unequivocally that my original attempt at grilling polenta was a failure—that cake stuck the grill and became overly soft, creating just kind of a mush that didn't have any of the qualities you'd expect something grilled to have. So I was a little nervous of a repeat here, and while I didn't bat 100, I was pretty pleased in the end. I wanted to develop a crisp crust quickly so the polenta would char enough to release from the grates before it softened too much.
The first couple pieces I was able to get a good crust, but lost some of it when it remained stuck to the grill. From then on, I decided to use my thinnest spatula to scrape the polenta from the grates for flipping, and luckily, that seemed to do the trick. The exterior wasn't always as deeply browned and charred as I was hoping, but it remained in tact, so my final product would have those ideal characteristics imparted by the grill.
Once the individual pieces of polenta were finished, I transferred them to a serving platter and topped with diced tomatoes and a spoonful of salsa verde. These ended up being a really great summer treat. They combined a very flavorful polenta that had essences of corn and the grill with the best sweet and fresh tomatoes and a bright and savory salsa. It felt like a lot of very seasonally appropriate elements coming together in harmony and in interesting manner that made it exciting for me and my guests. Now that I got that initial desire to dive into tomato season, I can think about more grilled polenta uses, because this stuff can fit into any season's menu fairly seamless depending on how it's dressed.
Grilled Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes and Italian Salsa Verde
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 40 Minutes
- Inactive 4 Hours
- Cook 6 Minutes
- Total 4 Hours 46 Minutes
- For the Polenta
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 5 cups water
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 2 ounces finely grated parmesan (about 1 cup)
- For the Salsa Verde
- 1 1/2 cups packed, roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup capers, drained
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated zest from 1 lemon
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2-3 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and diced
- To make the polenta: Lightly grease a 10-inch round pan; set aside. Heat butter and oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat until butter is melted. Add garlic and cook until light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Discard garlic. Add water, salt, and pepper to butter mixture. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Whisking constantly, add cornmeal in slow, steady stream. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, whisking frequently and scraping sides and bottom of pot, until mixture is thick and cornmeal is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove dutch oven from heat and whisk in parmesan cheese. Transfer to prepared pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 3 hours.
- To make the salsa verde: Place parsley, olive oil, capers, anchovies, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and lemon zest in work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until parsley is well chopped, about 10 1-second pulses, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a small serving bowl.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Remove polenta from pan and cut into 8 equal slices. Brush slices on both sides with olive oil and place on grill. Cook until polenta develops grill marks and lightly browns, about 3 minutes per side.
- Transfer polenta to a serving platter and top with diced tomatoes and salsa verde. Serve immediately.