Here at CHOW, there is a distinct polenta divide.
Hate: It’s tasteless, soupy; feels like wet sand.
Love: It’s luxurious, delicate, the corn a perfect sweet foil for dairy richness.
The lovers set out to create a dish that would make the haters concede that mashed-up cornmeal isn’t just a poor substitute for potatoes or rice. The haters claim it’s not fair because the Polenta Fries are, for one thing, fried and, for another, mostly vehicles for cheese. Whatever. These are good.
For the Polenta Fries:
1 (8-ounce) package instant polenta
For the Fontina Fondue:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic
6 whole black peppercorns
1 pound fontina cheese, diced
Freshly ground nutmeg
Prepare polenta according to the proportions on the package. Cook until polenta is thick and pulls away from the sides of the pot. Pour into a greased 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Let polenta set until cool.
Cut the polenta into pieces 2 inches long by 1/2 inch square. Dry the pieces with paper towels and dust with flour, shaking off excess.
Heat the oil to 325°F, and fry the polenta pieces until golden and crunchy, about 5 or 6 minutes. Drain polenta on a paper towel and lightly season with salt. Serve immediately, or hold in a warm oven until ready.
Tip: For fries that are easy to work with, make the polenta according to the package directions. If you’re willing to put up with a slight challenge, add a little more liquid to the polenta before you pour it. It’s harder to work with, but you’ll get fries that are crunchy outside and creamy inside.
Start a water bath by filling a large saucepan halfway with water and bringing to a simmer over medium-high heat. In a separate bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of water (about 2 tablespoons) and mix until smooth.
Put the wine, garlic, and peppercorns in a medium metal mixing bowl and set the pan over the water bath, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. When the wine simmers, remove the peppercorns and garlic, add one quarter of the cheese, and whisk until combined. Continue adding cheese until it is all incorporated.
Add the cornstarch to the mixture and whisk continuously to combine. Let simmer until the mixture is smooth, and season to taste with nutmeg. Transfer immediately to a fondue pot and serve with the Polenta Fries.