If you need a gluten-free sweet to take to brunch, consider polenta. My grandmother always served corn meal mush (AKA polenta allowed to chill overnight in a loaf pan, sliced and sautéed) with syrup, but in this easy recipe, the polenta is sweetened and made rich with ricotta cheese. It’s baked into a cake that’s sliced into wedges and served with fresh fruit. It’s a great alternative to breads and pastries, and your gluten-free companions will appreciate your creativity.
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 pint fresh strawberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2 cups cornmeal
2 Tbsp. cold salted butter, cut into pieces
Preheat the oven to 325°
Place the pine nuts in a deep 9-inch round cake pan. Put in the preheated oven and set the time for 3 minutes. Toast the pine nuts until they just being to turn golden and become slightly fragrant. Empty the nuts into a heatproof bowl to cool. Wipe the cake pan to remove any crumbs or residue from the nuts. Spray the pan with no-stick spray and set aside.
Rinse the berries in a colander under cool water and set aside to drain. Choose 8 of the largest, reddest strawberries, dry them, remove the stems and slice them in half. Set aside.
Place the ricotta, water, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until the water is incorporated and the ricotta mixture is uniform in color.
Stir the corn meal and the pine nuts into the ricotta mixture until well blended.
Pour the ricotta mixture into the prepared pan and smooth with the back of a spoon.
Press the halved strawberries gently into the top of the ricotta mixture. Dot with the pieces of butter.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until set in the center.
Allow to cool in the pan and finish setting up. Transfer to a serving platter.
Slice the remaining strawberries and toss with the blueberries and a ½ tsp. of sugar if you wish.
Mound the berries on top of the polenta. Dust with a little powdered sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.
Where to buy:
My favorite place to buy coarsely ground corn meal appropriate for polenta is at Winco in Pomona, California. Winco is employee-owned, and each store has a fantastic bulk section where you can buy baking supplies for a fraction of the cost at other grocery stores.
My favorite example is instant yeast. A 4-oz. jar of Red Star instant yeast will cost you $3-$6 depending on where you shop.
A couple of ounces of instant yeast from Winco’s bulk section costs about 10 cents. Take it home in a plastic bag, refill your original Red Star jar, and feel smug as heck as your bread rises for, well, pennies!
Look for other great deals on coarsely ground corn meal for polenta, pastry flour, gluten flour, Dutch process cocoa, bread flour, and much more.
You don’t need to worry about the cornmeal clumping up as you would if you were pouring it into boiling water. It doesn’t clump when added to cold fluids.
Stick pretty close to the 30-35 minute baking time to prevent the polenta from over-baking and drying out. Don’t let it get brown around the edges.
Consider using other flavorings such as almond extract, grated citrus peel, golden raisins or dried cherries soaked in brandy, and other kinds of nuts such as hazelnuts or almonds. Leave out the cinnamon and the pine nuts and you have a rich backdrop that can accept a range of flavors.