Six years have passed since I first wrote a blog about polenta. The time spent writing the original looks like the pages of a faded diary. The first version of this recipe came about by chance. A friend of mine was intent upon avoiding wheat, but simply could not stop dreaming of pizza. The thought of a golden, crispy polenta crust, burnt perfectly around the edges by the flames of an open fireplace came immediately to mind. This is how the idea and the name for “pizza gialla” was born.
It took a while to figure out how to emulate a pizza-like crust with polenta. That being said, the deliciousness of grilled polenta comes very close to the kind of comfort found in the pizza experience. Even though polenta stays soft in the middle, and cannot imitate the chewiness a slow-rise wheat dough can, the finished result is a perfect stand-in to the original.
As part of the polenta project I am engaging in at the moment, I tested my original recipe. A simplified version of the pizza gialla recipe I published in 2014, can be found below.
Ingredients for the polenta crust
- 250 grams of coarse cornmeal for polenta
- 1,25 ml water
- 1-2 teaspoons of sea salt
- a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 10 ml extra virgin olive oil . for brushing the tart form
Toppings for the ” pizza gialla “
- 1 red onion . about 300 grams
- 1 small zucchini . about 100 grams
- 200 grams plum tomatoes . canned and drained
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
Prepare a double boiler by filling up a pan half-full with water and putting it on medium heat to simmer. Mix the cornmeal with 500 ml of cold water in a pitcher. Stir it well with a whisk, until the cornmeal resembles a smooth batter. Set it aside. Fill a second pan that will later fit snugly into the first, with 750 ml water. Add sea salt and bring the water to a boil. Pour the cornmeal from the pitcher into the boiling water and stir it continuously for five minutes, making sure to scrape often along the sides. Once the cornmeal starts to bubble like lava, transfer the pan to the first pan, to create double boiler.
Cook the polenta at medium to low heat for twenty minutes, stirring it regularly. When the polenta begins to let loose on the sides of the pan, turn off the heat. Season the polenta with freshly ground pepper and cover it with a lid for five minutes. This will allow it to cook through, while remaining soft and moist.
Meanwhile cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a oblong tart form 27×30 cm in dimensions, then brush the paper lightly with olive oil. Scoop about 800 grams of cooked polenta into the form, and spread it quickly to create an even layer. Allow the polenta to cool completely, then chill it one hour in the refrigerator. (The crust also freezes perfectly).
For the pizza gialla
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Bake the polenta crust 20 minutes without any toppings. Remove it from the oven. Turn it over carefully with two spatulas onto an empty baking tray, then place it with the crisp side down, back into the tart form. This will make for a doubly crunchy crust! Return the polenta crust to the oven, as of yet without any toppings, and bake it another 20 minutes.
If you are not in the mood for complications, simply skip flipping the polenta. Instead, brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle it with sea salt. Bake it in the oven another 10-15 minutes. This will give you a crispy top crust. Meanwhile create your toppings
Drain the plum tomatoes in a fine-meshed seive. Peel a clove of garlic and slice it paper thin. Peel the red onion and slice it as thin as possible with a sharp knife, or a mandolin. Wash the zucchini, slicing it as thinly as the onions. Remove the polenta crust from the oven. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the top, then layer the zucchini and the red onion over two thirds of the crust. Spread out the plum tomatoes to cover the rest of the polenta. Distribute the garlic cloves over the tomato and sprinkle it with dried oregano. Bake the polenta crust 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetable toppings are roasted to your liking.
Remove the “pizza” from the oven. Sprinkle it with some sea salt flakes and crushed red pepper. Serve it piping hot with a good glass of wine or some sparkling mineral water studded with pomegranates.
I purposely made this recipe plant-based . If you feel like adding cheese, grate some Parmigiano Reggiano on top of the polenta crust before adding the vegetable toppings. When serving add burrata or buffalo mozzarella chunks if you like, or simply top the baked polenta with raw cavolo nero (also known as Tuscan kale), bitter radicchio leaves and some fresh basil leaves.
The name pizza gialla is a creative stretch of my imagination! Nothing can replace a true pizza, whose origins I look to from Naples. The inspiration for this recipe is actually based upon the northern Italian tradition of chilling cooked polenta, only to brush it with olive oil and cut it into slices, before toasting it on the open fire or on a grill. This is my favorite way to eat polenta by far.