Guest Post: Credit for this creative and delicious polenta recipe goes to my BFF Jeanmarie Kapp. She is a pesto aficionado and loves to cook. I'm delighted to share her recipe and post.
A simple Italian Parmesan-crusted Fried Polenta & Pesto dish that will convince your friends you’re a cooking genius!
I was in the mood for something tasty and easy this evening. While gazing into the fridge, I spotted the tube of cooked polenta. Something about it said, “Pick me. Pick me.” I also had leftover pesto from dinner with friends two weeks before, and it needed to be used up. I decided to risk it. 😁
The beauty of this San Gennaro Polenta is that it’s pre-cooked so it will last a while in its plastic binding. You can leave it in your pantry or store in the fridge (which is where I had it). I used the sun dried tomato and garlic version, though you can easily replace with the traditional recipe or the basil garlic style.
If you’re gluten free, like I am, this is a great meal on its own or a fantastic side dish. You can do so many things with polenta, from frying its rounds simply in olive oil, substitute them for potatoes to make a fabulous gruyere gratin with mushrooms and spinach (Click here for more polenta recipes) or bread them with your favorite flavors for frying.
This meal is super easy to create and takes just half an hour, with about 12-15 minutes of that as the cooking time (if you have the pesto premade; if not, add 10 minutes to the prep time). The polenta is very easy to cut into rounds and takes the breading quite nicely. This pesto is a recipe I’ve used for many, many years, and it’s also easy.
I do recommend you use a food processor; I wouldn’t make pesto without it. I like my Cuisinart, its classic style reflects the quality you’ll enjoy for years.
You’ll get the best texture and you can chop your ingredients so easily, so fast, and you’ll be amazed at the flavor. You can adapt this pesto recipe by switching to pine nuts, you can try it with cilantro or kale, etc. Go ahead, experiment! This recipe was adapted from Alyssa at food blog A Sequined Life.
Here is the step by step guide:
Prepare the pesto first. Peel the garlic cloves (use a silicone sleeve, it takes seconds) and chop well in the Cuisinart. Add the basil (I remove the long stems, since the best flavor is the leaf itself) and chop well. You want the pieces to be tiny, no more than a ¼”. Add walnuts and chop, blending with a spatula to bring the ingredients off the sidewall of the processer.
I like to add a little olive oil at this point to soften the ingredients. Add the salt and pepper now. This is to taste; I like to add at least ½ teaspoon of each to start. Then add the cheese, adding more olive oil to processor as you chop/blend. Your texture should be soft but grainy/nutty, not liquid. Taste it and check if it needs more salt, pepper, nuts, cheese. Put aside. (TIP: if you’re making the pesto for pasta, add a ¼ cup or so of hot pasta water, it adds flavor. This can reduce the amount of oil you add.)
Make the Fried Polenta Cakes. In a small bowl, mix egg and water, whisk until blended. In a separate small bowl, whisk seasonings with the breadcrumbs, then add cheeses. (I used the shredded for texture and the grated for better coating. Plus, it’s what I had in the fridge!)
Slice the polenta into ½” rounds. (I got 10 rounds from this 18oz tube.) Dip into egg mix, then into breading. Coat both sides well, then place on wax or parchment paper as your staging area.
Set your cast iron frying pan on your cooktop at medium heat. Drizzle olive oil into heated pan, then place polenta rounds in pan. (I cooked the rounds in two batches.) Fry until the bottom is a toasty golden brown; gently flip to cook other side. I used two spatulas to make sure I didn’t lose much breading on the turn.
If you’re using leftover pesto that’s chilled, gently reheat in your microwave, not on full power. It will need less than a minute on reheat setting. When the polenta has reached the golden brown color you want, remove rounds from pan and place on a serving platter. Spoon the warmed pesto on top. For more flavor and fun, scoop a bit of Trader Giotto’s Bruschetta on top of the pesto. Extra delish!
Amazing Fried Polenta Cakes with Pesto
- 3 ounces fresh basil leaves, stems removed, rinsed and patted dry
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- ¾ cups walnuts
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 18-ounce tube cooked polenta, cut in ½ inch rounds (should get 10 rounds)
- 3 tablespoon olive oil, for frying
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs (optional - use gluten-free brown rice breadcrumbs)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- ⅓ cup parmesan cheese, grated and shredded combo
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- In a food processor, pulse the basil and garlic until minced. Add walnuts and process until the mixture is incorporated and in small pieces. Scrape the ingredients off the sidewalls with a spatula
- Add half of the olive oil and half of the salt and pepper. Pulse 2-3 times to soften the ingredients.
- Add the cheese and remaining olive oil. Process until soft with a grainy/nutty texture. Test seasoing and add the rest of the salt and pepper if necessary. If too dry, add more olive oil and pulse until you get the right texture.
- Store the pesto in an airtight container until needed. Extra pesto freezes well.
Make Fried Polenta Cakes
- Prepare a breading station. In a small bowl, add egg and water and whisk until blended. In a separate small bowl, whisk seasonings with the breadcrumbs, then add cheese.
- Dip each polenta round into the egg mix, then into breading. Coat both sides well, then place on wax or parchment paper until ready to fry.
- Set your cast iron frying pan on your cooktop at medium heat. Drizzle olive oil into heated pan,
- Once hot, place breaded polenta rounds in pan. Cooked the rounds in batches so not to crowd the pan. Fry about 5 minutes until the bottom is a toasty golden brown. Gently flip to cook other side, using two spatulas. Fry another 5 minutes on the other or until golden brown. Remove fried polenta from pan and place on a serving platter.
- To serve, top each Fried Polenta Cake with warm Pesto. Optionally, also add a dollop of tomato bruchetta topping.