We may be having a mild winter here in the northeast, but soul-warming polenta is welcome at my table even if there's no snow on the ground. There's plenty of snow in Italy this year and that counts for me. And when polenta arrives at the table with melted fontina cheese, sauteed spinach and a runny egg just waiting to ooze onto your plate, so much the better.
I know some of my Italian friends would consider it heresy, but I used the quick-cooking polenta for this recipe. When you gussy it up with all the other ingredients, nobody will ever know. I was inspired to make this dish after seeing a similar version on Menu Turistico's blog, made with cavolo nero and scimudin cheese.
I started by heating the milk with some chopped rosemary and a bay leaf. I let the bay leaf steep in the milk until it came to a slow boil, then removed it prior to adding the cornmeal.
This quick-cooking stuff really lives up to its name. In five minutes, you've got ready-to-eat, delicious polenta. It's almost faster than boiling pasta.
Quickly pour the polenta into small ramekins that have been oiled, then make an indentation in each one using a spoon or measuring cups like I did. That hole is for the egg that you're going to plunk inside.
Use a medium egg here, so it doesn't spill over the sides. Crack it in a bowl first, then slide it into the small cavity.
Cover with some spinach that you've sauteed with onions and garlic.
Then top it all with grated fontina cheese.
Heat it in the oven for a little while - but not so long that you overcook the egg. Serve piping hot and watch the surprised look when unsuspecting friends discover the runny goodness that comes gushing forth. It's enough to make you wish for six more weeks of winter. Well, not really, but as long as you've got to endure the cold weather, stoke up with this hearty and delicious dish.
Join me for a week in Italy at the end of May and live like an Italian - sightseeing, cooking and eating in a villa located in the Alban Hills near Rome. There's still time to enroll. For details go to:
Adapted from Menu Turistico
Printable Recipe Here
Serves four people
1 cup polenta (I used the quick-cooking kind)
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 T. minced rosemary
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper to taste
1 bunch of fresh spinach (I used a pre-washed bag of baby spinach leaves)
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallot or onion
1 cup grated fontina cheese
4 medium size eggs
Heat the milk and water in a saucepan and add the bay leaf and rosemary. Bring it to a low simmer and let the bay leaf impart some flavor for a few minutes, then remove it. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream and stir constantly until it thickens. If using instant polenta, it will take only five to 10 minutes. Pour the polenta into greased pyrex ramekins or other similar containers. Immediately, make an indentation with a spoon or use a small measuring cup or the bottom of a small glass. Make it large enough to fit a whole egg into the space. Chill the ramekins in the refrigerator for five to ten minutes. Then remove the polenta cup from the ramekin by flipping it upside on your palm, and then right side up. Place the ramekins in a greased baking dish.
Saute the minced onions in the olive oil, then add the spinach and cook for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.
Crack a medium size egg into each of the polenta cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes - keeping an eye on the egg so it doesn't get overcooked. It may take shorter or longer, depending on your oven, but the egg should be very runny. Then cover the egg with the spinach mixture and grated fontina cheese. Bake another five minutes until the cheese is melted. When I first made these, I baked them from the start with the spinach and cheese over the raw egg, but the egg was so well insulated with the covering that it took a long time to cook. Also, when the egg is totally covered, you can't really tell if it's cooked, or overcooked, so use the method of baking the egg alone on top of the polenta in order to have greater control over the runniness of the egg, then finish baking for only a couple of minutes at the end with the spinach and cheese.