I think polenta deserves some sort of award for versatility. Although it sometimes seems like one of those niche ingredients that requires soaking and activating and blow torching with 66 degree heat, the instant version (which is all I've ever used) is outrageously simple, and virtually foolproof.
You can cook polenta for a potato mash-like side dish, let it set and fry it in bars, and use it to make desserts. It has a subtle flavour that brilliantly takes on anything you throw at it - sweet, savoury, spicy, salty, enough alliteration, etc. As a cheese lover, however, I do believe it polenta shines most when paired with cheese. You can call me biased, because I am.
INGREDIENTS - makes 4 decent sized side dishes
1 cup of instant polenta
3+ cups of boiling water
100g goats cheese, crumbled (plus extra for serving)
2 tablespoons parmesan, freshly grated
generous sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
generous sea salt and pepper
25g or a rough handful of basil
300g heirloom tomatoes
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2. Place your tomatoes on a baking tray lined with baking paper, and, when the oven is heated, pop in for at least half an hour. They continue to get more caramelised and delish as you go (until you go overboard and burn them, that is) so if you have extra time that is good news.
3. In your blender, process the basil, oil, salt and pepper until a lovely vibrant oil forms. You can add some garlic to this if you wish. It would undoubtedly be delicious, but alas - my digestive system doesn't cope with it at the moment, so I deprive my family of it for my own selfish needs. Naturally.
4. In a medium saucepan, add your polenta and salt. Turn the heat to low medium, and add the boiling water. Stir constantly until the polenta is smooth and starting the thicken. Crumble the goats cheese into the polenta, and add the parmesan. Continue stirring until the cheese has melted in. Add the polenta to your serving bowl (or serving plates) straight away, as it send to settle into itself quite quickly. You can always add more boiling water to loosen it up if necessary.
5. Your tomatoes should be done by now, so remove them from the oven and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Pop them on top of the polenta, and drizzle generously with basil oil. Add some decorative flourishes of extra goats cheese, and you are done!