Polenta is such a wonderful ingredient — so easy to work with, full of texture and flavor, inexpensive, naturally gluten-free — that I often turn to it when planning a party menu. For the wedding I catered last month (see the whole menu here) polenta was the perfect solution and one of the hits of the evening.
These crisp polenta toasts can be made well ahead, and their topping of rich ricotta and bacon is both simple and crowd-pleasing.
The secret to this recipe is the oven — not once, but twice. Instead of cooking up a big pot of polenta, stirring and stirring, I bake the polenta in a greased dish. This is very hands off and gives me a whole pan of polenta that, once chilled, can be cut into small pieces and broiled or grilled.
If you're making this as an appetizer or for a big party, as I was, you can make the polenta and even cut it into triangles days ahead. Then broil and top just before serving.
These are good hot or lukewarm; either way, the polenta is crisp and a little chewy in the center, with a luxurious smear of ricotta that's chock-full of whatever fresh herbs you can lay your hands on. I especially like basil and tarragon for these. The bacon is the crowning touch; you only need a little.
Polenta Toasts with Herbed Ricotta & Bacon
Makes 24 toasts
1 1/4 cups coarse yellow or white cornmeal
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 slices bacon, finely diced
15 ounces whole milk ricotta
1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon, and mint
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, to brush
Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Whisk together the polenta, water, and salt in the baking dish. Bake for 50 to 70 minutes or until firm. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 6 hours.
To make the topping, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain the fat and refrigerate, if not using immediately.
Mix together the ricotta, herbs, salt, and pepper. Taste and season more if desired. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
When ready to heat and serve, remove the chilled, firm polenta from the fridge and take the polenta out of the pan. Slice into 24 triangles and place in one layer on a large baking sheet. Brush generously with olive oil.
Broil the polenta toasts for 5 to 10 minutes or until warmed through and crisped on top. (There is a large time range due to varying broiler strengths and how chilled the polenta is. Keep a close eye on the polenta and remove when done to your liking.)
Use a spoon or pastry bag with a large tip to dollop the ricotta onto the hot toasts. Sprinkle a little cooked bacon on top and serve immediately.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)