How to Make Polenta Cakes 2021 – Cheap Healthy Meals

How to Make Authentic Italian Polenta Cakes

As you are probably aware, if you have read a number of my articles on cheap healthy meals, I like to purchase organically grown dried food in bulk. This not only reduces the product cost, but it also saves on the expense of refrigeration and the fuel cost infrequent trips to the supermarket.

Another major criterion to consider in preparing cheap healthy meals is convenience. We all know how much more expensive and unhealthy fast foods are. Yet there are often times in our busy days that if we don’t have something on hand, that is quick and easy to prepare, we get sucked into buying it.

Not that polenta cakes itself are all that quick to prepare but it freezes well and you want to make a big batch when you do. Dried corn is easily stored and if it is in an airtight container in a cool spot it keeps forever.

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Polenta cakes are a very popular Italian dish. Now that I have made some for myself I can see why it is so favored. It can be prepared in a variety of ways for breakfast, a dinner side, or a meal in itself. One of the ways I keep costs down is to grow as many of my vegetables as I can.

As I wrote in another article on cheap healthy meals I preserve many of these by fermenting them. Sauerkraut has become a favorite. Then, in the wintertime, rather than purchasing expensive fresh vegetables I like to rehydrate dried veggies and legumes.

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How to Make Polenta Cakes 2021 – Cheap Healthy Meals

Although I make my polenta cake with dried corn, which is technically considered a grain, the nutrients are just about the same as fresh corn, which is considered a vegetable. Hence the primary differences are only semantical.

The added bonus for me is that you don’t know what you are getting in the supermarkets these days. There is so much GMO corn produced now, which many of the growers wouldn’t eat themselves, that you never know what you are buying, especially out of season.

Polenta cakes are very similar to hominy grits, made famous in the southern states. It not only has a tradition as a staple there but during leaner years early last century, it constituted the major source of protein in many diets.

The problem was, though, this led to the widespread incidence of pellagra, a disease with horrific symptoms. These include sore skin and mouth, irritability, depression, hallucinations, and even death. This is caused by a deficiency in vitamin B3, aka niacin.

Corn is very nutritious and has sufficient B3 as well as 10 times as much vitamin A as other grains. The problem is that the niacin in corn is not readily bio-available. Corn needs to be nixtamalized by soaking in an alkaline solution to make the niacin bio-available.

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How to Make Polenta Cakes 2021 – Cheap Healthy Meals

Indigenous peoples south of the US border following their traditions have subsisted on corn for centuries without suffering from pellagra. They soak the corn in lime-water often made with the ashes from burned wood.

If corn does not constitute a significant part of your diet and you feel that you have other good sources of niacin this is not absolutely necessary.

As I like to get as many nutrients as possible from my meals I soak my corn. It helps that I heat with a wood stove and is pretty simple to do.

Otherwise, you can just buy some lime-water and add that to water to soak the corn all day or overnight depending on your schedule. If you are using dried whole kernels you need a mill that is able to handle corn.

That is one of the reasons that I purchased a Junior Wonder hand mill. It also allows me to mill my whole grains in a range anywhere from pastry flour to cracked wheat. I consume a lot of whole grains so I often get a good workout preparing them. This does wonder for my prowess in kayaking!

After I hand mill my corn I soak it in lime-water, which I make with ashes from my wood stove. I just soak them after skimming the floating unburned portion and let the ash settle for a few days, then decant the clear water. It is already sterile from having been burned.

Corn also contains phytic acids, which can bind with important minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, and carry them out of our bodies. On top of this, it does not have any significant amount of phytase, the enzyme necessary to neutralize phytic acid.

How to Make Polenta Cakes 2021 – Cheap Healthy Meals

This is easy to deal with by just adding rye flour rich in phytase, about 10% of the volume of cornmeal, to the soaking solution as well as whey at a Tbsp per cup of flour. This will neutralize a good portion of the phytic acid.

I like to make my polenta cakes with chicken stock but you can use water. The cornmeal needs to be brought to a boil and then simmered for about 20 to 30 minutes until it is so thick it starts to come away from the sides of the pot.

I like to add Parmesan, chopped onion, and fresh herbs before pouring it into a pyrex dish so that it is about 1/2 inch thick. Then I bake it at 300 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours.

There is an endless variety of options available online. This provides me with one more attractive way to prepare cheap healthy meals.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 5 cups of water
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup of Fine Corn Meal (Polenta)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Polenta Cakes
Polenta Cakes

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy-bottom saucepan bring water to a rolling boil. Season heavily with salt.
  2. Gradually add cornmeal, and stir with a wooden spoon until well-combined.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens. Stirring often. Remove from heat and allow to cool (approximately 25 minutes)
  4. Spray a casserole dish with a small amount of cooking spray. Line dish with saran wrap and set aside.
  5. Check polenta for seasoning. Add salt to taste.
  6. Pour polenta into the plastic wrap-lined dish. Add another layer of plastic wrap on top, and smooth it down directly on top of the polenta.
  7. Place dish in the refrigerator to chill until firm. 2 hours to overnight.
  8. When you are ready to make the polenta cakes. Lift the polenta out of the dish. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Place polenta onto a cutting board.
  9. Using a round cookie cutter or round glass, make 6 polenta circles “cakes.”
  10. Place a sauté pan over medium heat, and add approx. 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
  11. When the oil is hot, carefully place the polenta circles into the pan. Cook until a golden crust has formed on both sides, turning as little as possible.
  12. When polenta cakes are nearly finished, season with a smidge of pepper and a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

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How to Serve

Serve polenta in place of potatoes or rice for lunch or dinner. Top polenta with favorite baked-potato toppings. Make polenta with goat or feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, and fresh basil. 

Serve Mediterranean Polenta Rounds or Truffled Roasted Mushrooms on Garlic Polenta as appetizers for your next party.

Thinly sliced polenta can make wonderful layers for many recipes, adding a creamy texture and mild taste to any dish. Use it to create an easy weeknight dinner like our Cheesy Polenta Skillet, keep it on hand to replace noodles for a pasta-free lasagna, or put it in a Tex-Mex casserole to add delicious corn flavor.

How to Make Authentic Italian Polenta Cakes in 2021

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How to Make Polenta Cakes 2021 – Cheap Healthy Meals

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