Sweet Corn Kernels Intensify Summer Polenta

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Polenta adapts easily to special dietary needs

Butter on corn. Salt on corn. Maybe chili powder on corn. Gloriously sweet corn practically stands alone so long as summer keeps the crop coming.

Corn on corn is a preparation that I love almost as much as stripping husks from a silk-clad, milky moist ear. That’s right: Fresh kernels in polenta is a delightful textural deviation from on-the-cob servings. I serve polenta all year in all kinds of ways, but seeding it with sweet corn kernels takes its blank-canvas potential to the next level.

Highly versatile, polenta can be flavored with just about any type of cheese or dairy product. Luxurious mascarpone is a family favorite. When all else fails, we usually toss a Parmesan rind into the simmering pot.

But we skipped creamy enhancements this past weekend in deference to my sister-in-law’s exclusion of dairy from her diet. Griddling the cooled and cut polenta and serving it with a sweet and tangy tomato chutney imparted plenty of flavor. I could have simmered the polenta in homemade stock if we didn’t have the savor of smoked chicken to go with it.

Indeed, adjusting one’s recipes to accommodate guests’ nutritional requirements is well within reach. And for those who still wanted cheese, we just served it on the side. Had the polenta been soft, we could have passed around butter, sour cream or the small mozzarella balls cited in the following recipe.

This one can easily be made dairy-free, or even vegan, by substituting oil for butter to saute the onion, vegetable or mushroom stock for chicken and forgoing the cheese garnish. Instead, add savor with nutritional yeast, finely crumbled nori seaweed or smoked paprika, which lends another bright color.

Look for instant polenta in the imported foods aisle of large supermarkets, or order it online. Using regular polenta approximately doubles the cooking time.

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SWEET CORN AND CHIVE POLENTA

[PODCAST] The Whole Dish

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1 small sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and finely chopped

3 cups fresh sweet corn kernels, from 5 to 6 small ears corn

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 cup instant polenta

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Small pearls of fresh mozzarella (optional)

Crispy cornbread croutons, optional (recipe follows)

  • In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until golden-brown and soft, for about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the corn kernels; set aside.
  • Puree remaining corn kernels in a blender or food processor until very smooth.
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the broth and salt; bring to a simmer.
  • Whisking continuously, add the polenta in a slow, steady stream until mixture is smooth. Reduce heat to very low. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick and creamy, for about 5 minutes. (Use a splatter guard to prevent getting splashed with hot polenta.)
  • Stir corn puree into polenta. Cook and stir on low for 2 minutes. Stir in onion-corn mixture; simmer for a few minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Serve garnished with plenty of chives. Top with the mozzarella and/or cornbread croutons, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

CRISPY CORNBREAD CROUTONS

FOOD POLENTA 2 SL

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut 8 ounces (about 4 large baked squares) into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until edges are golden-brown, for about 10 minutes. Cool completely. Store wrapped in foil for a day or so.

 

Photo by Tribune News Service

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