Sunday, September 07, 2008

Melty Cheese

I love things with melted, gooey, warm and runny cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches come to mind. Pizza, too. Even a slice of good bread, topped with cheese and run under the broiler can be real comfort food.

The other day I saw a recipe by Donna Hay that Patricia had posted on her blog Technicolor Kitchen that sounded SOOOOO good, particularly because it had a layer of melted cheese sandwiched between two layers of polenta. I knew I had to try it. Thanks Patricia!

I decided to make some pasta sauce to go along with the Polenta with Cheese and Basil. I had a pound of Willy Bird's ground turkey, so half was devoted to the pasta sauce, along with some very seasonal zucchini.

Half of the turkey was browned and made into a pot of chili. Since I regularly use packaged chili mix for the seasonings and canned kidney beans and tomato sauce, too, I’m not including a recipe for the chili. The secret of making it taste like “home made” is to simmer it for a long time, stirring frequently. Making it a day or so before you plan to eat it is great, too. Kept in the refrigerator, then re-heated, the flavors get even better.

The second half of the pound of ground turkey went into my favorite pasta sauce. The recipe was previously posted here.

Both the chili and the pasta sauce ended up in the fridge and were eaten this weekend. The polenta recipe needs to be made ahead by at least an hour because it needs to chill, too.

Usually I change something significant about a recipe, but this time I just used less butter and used regular instead of instant polenta. This polenta, a whole grain, was purchased at the Bale Grist Mill in the Napa area. I had enjoyed watching them use the huge mill stones to grind the dried corn into the coarse polenta, so eating this particular polenta was a double treat.

Regular polenta needs to be cooked longer than the instant polenta. I simmered mine ten minutes or more, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. The cooked polenta was thick and had little darker flecks as the corn had dried with some darker bits. It made a nice, firm cake to cut and grill in my trusty cast iron skillet. I used a round 9 inch cake pan, lined with foil, instead of a square pan.

The fresh basil leaves added a nice jolt of flavor that went so well with the tomato based pasta sauce. The mozzarella cheese in the middle melted ... mmmm, melty cheese! ... so there were lots of great textures and flavors going in this dish.

You could also serve this grilled polenta by itself, as a side dish with some pan fried chops or grilled chicken breasts, or garnished with some pesto sauce.

Here is the recipe for the polenta with cheese and basil:

Grilled Cheese and Basil Polenta
A Donna Hay (#40) recipe as posted on Technicolor Kitchen blog

3 cups (750ml) water
1 cup (170g) instant polenta (I used an equal amount of regular polenta)
60g butter, chopped (I only used a tablespoon of butter)
½ cup (50g) finely grated parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
2 cups (200g) grated mozzarella*
olive oil, for brushing

Place water in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir through the butter, parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour half of the polenta into a 20cm square pan lined with non-stick baking paper (I used foil) and spread to smooth. Top with the basil, mozzarella and remaining polenta. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until set.
Cut into squares/rectangles and brush with oil. Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue over high heat. (I used my cast iron skillet, well heated) Cook the polenta for 3-4 minutes each side or until golden and the cheese has melted.

Serve topped with a generous serving of the pasta sauce or a ragu of your choice. A nice green salad completes the meal.


  1. I'm so jealous you made that. I fell in love with it when I saw it and so need to make it.

  2. OH. MY. WORD. That looks so good.
    We don't find polenta here -- it seems the UK skews French instead of Italian; for instance, we have courgettes instead of zucchini, and aubergines instead of eggplant. I think it's an historical remnant, but anyway, polenta? Even chunky milled cornmeal? Oh, so hard to find, outside of the pre-made tube stuff. We default to using the fine-milled cornmeal used in Indian cuisine.

    Last time I was home, I was longing for Mexican food. This time, I'm going to be shipping myself plain old polenta meal.

  3. Elle, look at this polenta! Yours looks glorious - I should have added some tomato sauce to mine, too! You bet I'll be doing it next time.
    I'm glad to know you like the recipe - that will certainly become a regular in our house.


  4. Would you believe that this was a staple growing up in my house? Polenta with gravy (our Italian-American word for red sauce) and cheese. I haven't made it that way in a long time, but after salivating over your pic, that's gonna change very soon. :)

  5. Anonymous12:40 PM

    OK, Melty cheese is the best thing in the entire world, right up there with bacon and gooey chocolate brownies. Hmmm...gooey chocolate cheeses bacon brownies?! The ulitmate?!

    I'm making this as soon as I can eat polenta again!

  6. OhPlease! I knew I should come in for this one.
    This takes my breath and heart!

  7. There's nothing better than melted cheese in my opinion!!

  8. Peabody, Do make it...I made it again good!

    Tadmack, wouldn't be quite the same, but layered cornbread, cheese, basil would be tasty, too.

    Patricia, again, thanks for the's a keeper!

    Susan, Such a wonderful heritage! Glad the photo got your mouth watering...that was the idea :)

    breadchick, love the idea of chocolate, bacon, melty cheese all together in a gooey could happen!

    Tanna, thank you :)

    Deborah, I agree!

  9. What an interesting way to use polenta. I've always thought of it as pretty dry and boring but this shoots it up to a whole other level.