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Union Square Café's Creamy Polenta with Mascarpone

Here's another winner from the boys at Union Square Café. I was looking through old files and found this delicious and surprisingly easy recipe. I know how popular it is at the restaurant, and I thought it would go great in this cold weather.

You don't have to pour the cornmeal into the boiling liquid as you simultaneously stir constantly, as most recipes suggest, then continue to stir constantly -- and in only one direction. To prevent lumping with less effort and trepidation, I start the cornmeal in cold water and stir constantly only until the liquid boils and the mixture begins to thicken. After that, I stir only occasionally. Several listeners agree with this method, which I had thought was my own, and revolutionary at that. It made me feel less alone.

You will note that Union Square chef Michael Romano adds the cornmeal to the boiling liquid, as most recipes instruct -- and he includes the usual warning about lumps. In any case, what makes Union Square's polenta different isn't the cooking method, but that the cornmeal is cooked in milk with a bit of cream. Obviously this is fabulously, truly insanely rich, which is, of course, why it is so popular as an a la carte side dish -- "for the table" -- at the restaurant.

Union Square Cafe's
Creamy Polenta with Mascarpone

Serves 4 to 6

4 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

For an appetizer, garnish with:
8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 ounces shelled walnuts, lightly toasted
chopped parsley

In a 2-quart, non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or enameled cast iron), slowly bring the milk and cream to a boil, stirring as it heats to prevent scorching.

Important: to avoid lumpy polenta, hold the bag of polenta in one hand, a firm whisk in the other, and begin pouring the polenta in a slow and steady stream into the milk. Whisk without stopping until all of the polenta is absorbed.

At this point, turn the heat down very low. Switch to a large wooden paddle or spatula, and thoroughly stir the polenta every 10 minutes for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Before removing from the pot, stir in the mascarpone and season the polenta with salt and white pepper. When done, the polenta should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.

To serve as an appetizer, spoon the polenta into a heat-resistant platter or casserole, dot evenly with the gorgonzola and melt the cheese under a hot broiler. Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts before serving.

Union Square Café
21 East 16th Street (off Union Square West)
(212) 243-4020

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