Polenta takes a softer approach

November 04, 2001|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

I love to include polenta wedges or squares as side dishes in planning menus for entertaining. For the past few months, though, I have been experimenting with cooking the softer variety almost completely in advance and quickly finishing it when needed. Soft polenta has a creamy-smooth consistency. I was delighted with the results and began exploring variations, one of which follows.

For a fall menu, you could offer boiled artichokes as a first course, follow with the shrimp and polenta, and finish with poached pears and homemade or bakery-purchased cookies.

Betty Rosbottom writes for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Sauteed Lemon Shrimp on a Bed of Creamy Polenta

Makes 4 main-course servings

POLENTA:

4 1/2 to 5 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed

1 cup fine yellow cornmeal

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary

1 / 4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup milk

salt and freshly ground black pepper

SHRIMP:

olive oil

28 large shrimp (1 to 1 1 / 4 pounds in the shell), shelled and deveined

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest 1 / 4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 4 sprigs for garnish

salt and freshly ground black pepper

To prepare polenta, bring to simmer 4 1/2 cups stock in large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. In a thin stream, gradually pour cornmeal into simmering liquid, whisking constantly, and cook until mixture is thick and pulls away from sides of pan. This whole process should take 12 to 15 minutes or more. Stir in Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and chopped rosemary. Remove from heat and cover pan with lid set slightly ajar. (Polenta can rest at room temperature up to 2 hours.)

When ready to serve, place pan with polenta over medium heat and stir constantly until warm. Stir in butter and milk and mix until butter has melted and milk has been absorbed. If too thick, thin by stirring in remaining 1/2 cup or more stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside, loosely covered with lid, while you quickly cook shrimp.

To prepare shrimp, pour enough olive oil in large, heavy skillet to coat bottom well. Place over medium-high heat until oil is very hot. Add shrimp and cook, stirring and turning, until shrimp are curled and pink, about 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook, or shrimp will be tough. Remove from heat. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped rosemary. Season generously with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide and ladle polenta into 4 shallow bowls. Mound some shrimp in center of each and garnish each with a rosemary sprig.

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