This is cold-weather fare that is perfect for a damp January night. It takes time to prepare, but the final bone sticking warmth is well worth the effort.
We’ve started using an expression in our house to describe those snuggly creature comforts that bring a sense of well-being in lockdown this winter. We call it cozy coze. It’s sort of our version of hygge, the Danish concept of cozy contentment. Polenta with copious amounts of cheese is as cozy coze as a fluffy cat or an oversized wool sweater.
The leeks are the trick to this dish, adding a sweet onion flavor that shines against the bitter radicchio, sort of like the flicker of candlelight atop all the wooly cozy coze of warm polenta and cheese.
Polenta can be made with any starchy grain and was often prepared with barley in ancient Rome before corn reached Europe. But flour made from chestnuts or chickpeas would also technically work. I should experiment with this one of these days. Have you ever tried it?
Polenta with radicchio, leek, and taleggio
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 1 radicchio, thinly sliced
- 1 leek, thinly sliced
- At least 5 ounces of taleggio? I suggest going as heavy on the cheese as you can handle.
- Parmesan, grated
- Unsalted butter
- Olive oil
- Optional: Colatura di alici (Italian anchovy sauce)
- Cook the radicchio and leek in a skillet with a couple of tablespoons of butter until tender and the leek is golden. Season with salt or a dash of colatura di alici, an Italian anchovy sauce. Add water to extend the cooking time if needed.
- Butter a small baking dish (around 7″ x 9 1/2″) and preheat an oven to 375°F.
Cook the polenta – this is one way to make polenta but certainly not the only way. Serious Eats has a far more detailed post over here if you want the low down on preparing creamy cornmeal.
- Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil and then simmer. Keep this on hand to add to the polenta if more water is needed while cooking.
- Bring 7.5 cups (ratio of 1:5 for cornmeal to water) of lightly salted water to a boil and then turn off the heat and let cool slightly.
- Add a splash of olive oil and turn on the heat again and before it comes to a boil, slowly add the cornmeal while stirring or whisking.
- Reduce heat and cook until rich and creamy and the grains are cooked through, about 40 minutes to an hour. Stir frequently and whisk if it starts to get lumpy.
- Stir in a handful of grated parmesan cheese.
Assemble and bake
- Put one-third of the polenta in the baking dish, top with one-third of the taleggio and 1/3 of the radicchio and leek. Then repeat with another third and then the final third.
- Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the polenta is golden and begins to get crispy on top and the cheese is a puddle of goo.