Tuesday, June 3, 2008

With A Swoon: Curried Polenta Fries

Recently, I am tempted to start each new blog post with "I am soooo sorry," for I have had trouble keeping up a consistent blogging pattern, especially compared to when I began this blog last October. I started out with such gusto when I discovered the world of food blogs and realized turning a camera lens toward food could capture a beautiful fleeting presence. I wanted to challenge myself to write (well) about the little details of mixing this into that and came to enjoy describing each bite of the finished product. I still love these things, but at this point I am attributing my sluggish behavior on One Hungry Soul to the fact that I am burned. out.

By the time another college school year ends my body is always weary, my brain is fried, and my creativity waning from pumping out one artistic project after another. I am grateful for the education I am receiving, though, and know that in August I will be able to go back excited about a new set of subjects to learn. For now, I just need some rest.

Backtracking a week or two, I was still in Abilene plugging away at a three week intensive ceramics course and my cupboards were starting to look particularly bare as I tried to use up ingredients that wouldn't make it through the summer. Alone on one end of a shelf sat my bag of cornmeal, and suddenly, perhaps in a rebellion against the hot sun that had beat down all day, I was craving polenta. And then I thought about an old post of Molly's at Orangette that had made quite an impression on me when I first read it. She had written about polenta fries, and the idea of that cornmeal taste taking on the textures of a soft creamy center and a crusty outside made my qualms about deep frying subside...for the moment....

I cannot hear or say the word "deep fry" without thinking of my mother's own articulation of those sounds while growing up. They were said slowly, regretfully, each syllable weighed down with disgust. I soon took on the same reaction, only excusing the occasional, extra-impressive batch of french fries or tempura, and when I actually attempted the process once while making beignets with friends, the smell that permeated the house caused me to lose my appetite. And all that hot oil? The color, the smell, how deeply it soaks into whatever is immersed in it, well, I would prefer to avoid that, thank you very much.

All that to say, I was still drawn to these polenta fries and proceeded to make them. Taking some liberties of my own, I used water instead of broth and depended on spices to deepen the flavor. The closest spice jar on hand was a bewitching smelling curry powder and as I stood there waiting for the water to boil I remembered my Indian roommate had left a green mango pickle in the refrigerator. Without another thought, I sprinkled a generous amount of curry powder into the cornmeal.

When it came time to deep fry, my mom's voice was not only still echoing in my ears but common sense told me that so much oil is simply better avoided . The polenta was good enough to eat in strips, cold from the fridge, and I have to admit that by the time I decided how to reheat it, half was already gone. Even still, I wanted the experience of a crispy exterior, and so I settled with a borderline deep frying technique: in a skillet with a couple tablespoons of canola oil.

And let me tell you, the simple little strips of crispy polenta laid before me on a plate that night were good, as in draw-that-word-out-with-a-swoon good. And the house didn't smell like carnival funnel cakes at all. My housemates walked into the kitchen asking if I had made pancakes!

Now for the recipe: I followed Molly's adapted recipe, except that I substituted water for broth, added 1-2 teaspoons of curry powder to the still-forming polenta, and replaced asiago cheese with a tablespoon of cream cheese (...the little tub was just sitting in the fridge threatening to expire and since I didn't have any cheese on hand and had just watched a whole stick of butter melt away in the polenta, I shrugged my shoulders and scooped in some more creaminess/saturated fat). When the chilling stage was done I heated up a little bit of oil in a skillet and carefully placed strips of polenta in it, flipping them with the help of a second spatula when one side became golden and crusty.


Brent Johnson said...

Hey Lael, I recommend looking at another blog for inspiration! Look at this link.. it's about taking a break from your blog. You might enjoy. I found it worth reading.


Lael said...

Brent: Thanks so much for the link! That article was definitely helpful and I bookmarked the site itself because a lot more of its content looks interesting. Great stuff!