Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sundried Tomato Polenta Bites ...

Appetizers are the heart of holiday entertaining. I love to take these starters to friends' parties or make them ahead to serve at my own soiree. What's important is that they have abundant flavor, plate beautifully and can conveniently be made ahead.

After discovering the Polenta Bites recipe from Recipe Girl (loosely adapted from Bon Appetit), these 'go to' appetizers are going to be my party staple this holiday season. They look gorgeous on a tray with festive red and green accents.

Image via Recipe Girl.

SUNDRIED TOMATO POLENTA BITES

Yield: 24 to 30 appetizers, Prep Time: 40 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

Bites:
2 2/3 cups whole milk
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup yellow cornmeal or polenta
1/3 cup olive oil (more or less), for frying

Pesto:
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Topping:
2 ounces goat cheese, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained & cut into smaller pieces
chopped pistachio, optional
sea salt

Directions:
Prepare polenta bites: Lightly oil 13x9-inch baking pan. Bring first 4 ingredients to simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat; simmer 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove herbs and garlic. Whisk in cornmeal in a slow steady stream; return to boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer until the polenta is very thick, whisking often, about 10 minutes.

Turn polenta out into prepared pan; spread to 1/2-inch thick layer- don't worry about making it perfect- just spread it out as even as you can. Let it cool completely. When the polenta is cool, use a 1 to a 1 1/2-inch round cutter to cut out 24 to 30 polenta rounds (as many as you can).

Prepare pesto: Place basil, pistachios and cheese in a mini processor Blend to create a coarse puree. Add olive oil and blend until pesto is smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour about 1/3 cup olive oil into a large nonstick skillet to coat the bottom; heat over medium-high heat. Saute polenta rounds until they are lightly browned, about 1 minute on each side; transfer to paper towels to drain.

Assemble: Top each polenta round with a small amount of pesto, a chunk of goat cheese and sundried tomato. Add a few chopped pistachios too, if you'd like. Finish them with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Make-ahead tips:
  1. Prepare the polenta rounds as described in step 1 up to two days ahead; cover and chill.
  2. Prepare the pesto up to 1 day ahead; cover and chill. For a quick & easy sub- use store bought pesto in place of the homemade.
  3. Fry the polenta rounds up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature, then re-warm in 375 degree oven for 5 minutes before adding toppings and serving.
  4. Serve this warmed, but they're still good when they come to room temperature too.

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