As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Town, when I have something in my pantry and I want to celebrate it, I hunt for something special that’s also easy and practical. In my mind, food at home should be enjoyable and exciting – maybe moreso than restaurant fare. That’s how these fries came about. They demand a little prep up front, but they make a terrifically tasty fast food when a person is in a rush or just doesn’t feel like cooking.
The whole idea started at Heidi’s 101 cookbooks, a recipe journal:
I like polenta. I like fries. The combination of polenta and fries? AMAZING! They are so much tastier than fries alone and in this recipe, I’ll wager they are much healthier too since they are baked. You control how long they stay in the oven, so the crispiness factor is entirely up to you. The addition of peppers, garlic and onion gives an extra kick of vitamin C for impending cold and flu season too!
Note: This recipe taught me the urgent need for what the French call mise en place: everything at the ready. This recipe comes together in less than 2 minutes (cook time) and if you are not ready, you’re going to have to start over. Plain and simple.
Here is what you need to have on hand:
- 2 cups broth or the pureed pulp of a vegetable you love
- 2 cups milk
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal (finely ground)
- 1 cup shredded cheese – you choose the kind you like
I had 1 1/2 cups of pepper, onion and garlic pulp from last night’s pepper soup, so I chose to use it along with 2 1/2 cups of milk (basically you need 4 cups of liquid altogether).
Combine these in a saucepan and set the temperature to medium. You want the mixture to come to a slow boil.
Look! It’s already festive! And it’s already starting to steam – excitement!
While this is coming to a boil, take the cornmeal and add about 2 Tbsp of your favourite spice to it. Don’t be shy – it won’t overpower the fries.
Once it gets mixed in, it doesn’t look like much at all:
Ok, it’s boiling! Hurrah! With one hand, stir the pot slowly and with the other hand, pour in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream. As soon as it is mixed in (seconds later), volcanic activity happens – aieeeee! Remove the pot from the heat as fast as you can!
It looks like gruel. That’s what you want. Dump in the cheese and stir it through well. The cheese will melt on contact with the cornmeal slurry. That was the hard part – you’re done!
Now, prepare a baking sheet with one sheet of aluminum foil and one sheet of parchment paper:
Dump the cornmeal mixture right onto the baking sheet and smooth it out with the back of a spoon. It doesn’t need to be perfect (mine sure isn’t).
Now let the cornmeal mixture cool in the refrigerator for about half an hour. That will let it set so that you can cut it into fries.
When the polenta comes out, you can lift it off the baking sheet by grasping the aluminum foil on both sides. Peel the parchment paper and foil down from the edges of the polenta.
Grab a butterknife. To cut the polenta, the back of the knife will be used so that there are no jagged edges to grip and pull on the tender cornmeal.
Using the back of the knife, cut the polenta into 4 sections:
Now cut the fries. I like them skinny for more crunch, but you can do thick triangles like Heidi did too. In fact, when I make cornmeal crackers again, I am going to use this recipe and make the polenta paper-thin so that it will bake up like tortilla chips in the oven. The possibilities really are endless with this recipe.
You COULD go ahead and eat the fries right now, but I make these when I have time so that I have something nutritious for moments when there isn’t much time, so I’ll show you what I do and you can decide for yourself.
Carefully lift the tender fries using the butterknife and place them fairly close together on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. The space between the fries is to allow them to freeze separately so they are easier to work with later on.
Look at that! Leftover vegetables and inexpensive cornmeal made about 2 bags’ worth of frozen French fries for about 1/3 the price of 1 bag alone. Loosely cover the polenta fries with plastic wrap and put the baking sheets in the freezer. Once the fries are completely frozen, take out the trays and put the fries into plastic sandwich bags – it’s about the same serving size as you would get on your plate at a restaurant. Put the bags back into the freezer – they are ready for the next time you’re in a rush to put food on the table!
To serve the fries, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Open the sandwich bag full of fries and drizzle about 1 Tbsp olive oil over the top of the fries and shake the bag a little to get a little oil on all of the fries. Dump the fries onto the waiting baking sheet and let them crisp up in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for about half an hour (or less, depending on your taste).