Polenta . part ii . sweet almond crostata

. Polenta stories and a blog collaboration  .

. Introducing sweet polenta ideas from Biagio d’Angelo . 

In his words, translated from Italian. . .

” It all started with the mixed blessing known as Instagram. Let me explain what I mean! Instagram is a place where one can make great friends, especially because there is a vast opportunity to connect around mutual interests, like culinary subjects.

This is how I met Terri. She hasa Finnish last name, and I actually thought she spoke it. While exchanging our appreciation for a classic among cakes on Instagram, I discovered that Terri actually speaks Italian fluently. Italy is where her heart lives, she told me. In one of our first message exchanges, she explained she was reading cookbooks on the culinary tradition of the Veneto. Sometime in late autumn, I suggested we create a “club” to collaborate on our mutual interest in polenta. We gave our project the title “Polenta is the New Yellow”, which made us both laugh.

What is extraordinary is that our collaboration is completely virtual (And yes, that is definitely very typical of the global pandemic years.) I live in Brazil and Terri lives in the Netherlands. We consulted each other, via voice messages, each discussing and choosing our own recipes to write about. And this is what the results of our plan looks like:

During the next few weeks, I will prepare and publish four savory dishes with polenta as its main ingredient. I will concentrate on sweet recipes (if you know me, you know that is the obvious choice haha). We will translate each other’s recipes in Italian and English respectively, and post them on Instagram as well as on our individual blogs. Call it a project in friendship.

Allow me to introduce my first recipe. This particular sweet comes from the type of publication I love to explore both in my baking and on my blog.The book I am referring to is Maria Speck’s “Simply Ancient Grains”. In this volume, I learned of the infinite possibilities of grains including kamut and marveled at a vast spectrum of sweet and savory, grain-focused recipes both. I happened upon Maria’s book thanks to a reference from Nik Sharma’s blog “The Brown Table”.  His description of the cornmeal and honey tart from “Simply Ancient Grains” caught my eye and I was hooked!

How should I describe this dolce to you? Well, the polenta base has a texture of rustic elegance. The sweet butter-and-honey almond layer is almost like caramel. I decided to make a delicate strawberry and thyme filling for the crostata topping, rather than the plum version from the original. I hope you feel inspired as I was to make this cake!  Serve it with some whipped cream or crème fraiche, accompanied by a glass of white wine (why not right?)

Ingredients. for an 8 person dessert

For the polenta

  • 500 ml water
  • 375 ml whole milk
  • 150 grams medium-ground cornmeal for polenta
  • 80 grams of honey
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of fine sea salt

For the filling

  • 400 grams fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons of honey . approximately 30 grams
  • 60 ml apple juice .
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy (optional)
  • the leaves of 4-6 sprigs of thyme

For the almond glaze

  • 60 grams unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of honey . approximately 30 grams
  • 110 grams of slivered almonds

Optional

  • 120 ml heavy cream . or crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon of honey . or 10 grams of raw cane sugar

The making of this dessert involves a few steps, starting with the fruit topping. If you are currently in the midst of winter, consider using frozen strawberries. Alternatively, marinate any seasonal fruit of your choice, like pears or apples, following the instructions as described here.

Wash the fresh strawberries (if using) and remove their stems. Halve the berries and drop them in a medium-sized bowl . Add ground cinnamon, honey, apple juice, brandy (if using) and one teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves to the berries in the bowl. Stir the ingredients, then cover the them. Chill and marinate the fruit two hours, stirring it occasionally. Pick the leaves of thyme and set them aside

To make crostata base, the cornmeal is cooked just like a traditional polenta. As is often the case with polenta, it is then cooled until firm enough to form a base.

Pour the water and milk into a heavy-bottomed pan, adding both the honey and sea salt. Bring the ingredients to a boil at medium heat, then add the cornmeal in a slow and steady stream, while stirring continuously about one minute. Turn down the heat to low.  Stir the cornmeal energetically with a spoon to incorporate the flour and to make sure it doesn’t lump. Then, cover the pan with a lid and cook the cornmeal ten minutes, stirring regularly with a wooden. This will prevent the polenta from sticking or forming lumps during the cooking process. Turn off the heat and let the polenta with the lid on the pan, ten more minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a porcelain tart form 24 cm in diameter by smearing the sides and bottom generously with a layer of unsalted butter. Pour the polenta into the tart form and spread it out in an even layer with a wooden spoon. (If the spoon sticks to the polenta, dip it into a bowl of cold water while undertaking this process.) Alternatively, cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the tart form and place it on the top of the warm polenta. Allow it to cool before flipping it over into the tart form, flattening it carefully with wet hands if needed.

Once the polenta base layer is in shape, carefully make twelve indentations with the round part of a spoon over the entire tart bottom. Dip the spoon at each indentation in cold water to keep the polenta from sticking to the spoon! This keeps the polenta base from swelling during the baking process, Set the polenta base aside for 45 minutes.

Make the almond glaze as follows.  Melt the butter in a skillet at medium heat and drizzle in the honey. Allow the mixture to assimilate, then add the slivered almonds. Stir the ingredients until the almonds are completely covered, and the butter-honey glaze starts to foam. Turn off the heat and spread the warm almonds over the cooled polenta base.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (with the fan on). Bake the tart in a preheated oven 20 minutes, or until the almonds turn golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and place it on a cake rack  to cool at least 20-30 minutes. To serve the crostata, cut it into eight slices. Place each slice on a dessert plate. Spoon a generous amount of strawberries over the browned almonds and garnish the crostata with fresh thyme leaves.

Although this is a luxurious addition, if you would like to add some cream to the crostata, please do! Simply whisk some heavy cream into soft peaks with a touch of honey or sugar. Alternatively, add some pure unsweetened crème fraiche to your dessert and enjoy.

P.S. 

Don’t forget a glass of chilled white wine.

Sincerely, Biagio .

author of gloggtheblog.com ”

Notes 

This is the first of four sweet polenta recipes created by Biagio d’Angelo, which will appear on my blog translated from Italian in the month of February. Read more about our polenta stories on Instagram.

Photo credits Biagio d’Angelo

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