A staple with ancient origins, polenta has now found favour around the world. Mario Matassa demonstrates how wonderfully versatile it can be in this recipe for polenta pizza margherita
Polenta is perhaps one of the oldest dishes known to Italy. Made originally from any pulse – often a mix of spelt and rye – it was boiled to a thick gruel, with cheese or herbs added when they were available.
The polenta we know today is made from maize flour or corn (gran turco) and was imported to Europe from America in the 16th century. Readily available, it became the staple food of the poor, a symbol of cucina povera.
Today, polenta has achieved a popularity that extends way beyond Italian national borders. Just like pasta and rice, it is a staple that is versatile, inexpensive and offers endless culinary opportunity for practically any occasion.
That said, unless you live high in the mountains, Italians tend not to eat polenta in the summer months. It’s considered a comfort food of the highest order – and they love it – but it is best cooked on cooler days.
Cooking polenta is a simple process, but it takes 30 to 45 minutes to make.
The good news is that an instant polenta is available, which takes anywhere between 5 and 8 minutes. Polenta purists will tell you that it’s not as good, and frankly I have to agree.
However, for re-cooked polenta dishes, such as this polenta pizza, I find it’s perfectly acceptable.
I’ve noticed that children are especially fond of re-cooked polenta. You can add anything you like. Cut thick chips and fry until crisp and golden, then add salt and dried herbs.
Alternatively, cool the polenta in a round and, once it has set, throw a pizza party.
Other toppings that work well are fresh porcini mushrooms, pan-fried with garlic and parsley, or strong cheeses – gorgonzola is popular. The strong taste of the cheese blends perfectly with the mild flavour of the polenta.
Polenta Pizza Margherita | Pizza di polenta margherita
➤ SERVES: 4
➤ PREPARATION: 10 minutes
➤ BAKING: 25 minutes
- 500g instant polenta
- 4 San Marzano tomatoes
- 400g mozzarella
- a good handful of fresh spinach leaves
- vegetable oil
- extra-virgin olive oil
- oregano and salt
- Cook the instant polenta according to the packet instructions. This should take about 5 minutes. Pour the cooked polenta evenly into 4 lightly oiled pizza tins and allow to cool completely until set.
- Once you are ready to cook, wash the spinach leaves and blanch for a minute or so in a pan. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4.
- The pizzas are first cooked in a frying pan with a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil, until the polenta is golden and crisp and then finished in the oven with the topping. Use a spatula to remove the pizza from the tin and fry for about 4-5 minutes in the pan on either side. If you have a couple of frying pans, you can cook two at a time. Once cooked, keep them warm in the oven while you cook the remaining pizzas. You’ll need the oven hot for the pizza, but don’t worry, the polenta won’t burn.
- To finish the pizzas, add a few spinach leaves to each, along with slices of tomato and mozzarella (or any other pizza topping you prefer). Add a sprinkling of salt, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil and return to the oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe and photo by Mario Matassa
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