At the local Turkish market last month I bought an enormous bag of yellow onions for a pittance. Although I use onions all the time, after a month I’d barely made a dent in the bag. Afraid that the onions would start to go bad if I didn’t increase my pace, I started searching around for onion-demanding recipes. I considering attempting vegetarian onion soup, but instead ended up trying Heidi Swanson’s recipe for cornmeal crunch—essentially baked polenta slathered in carmelized onions. The recipe calls for medium grind cornmeal, but I wasn’t sure what that means. Is that supposed to refer to a not too coarse polenta grind, or a very coarse cornmeal grind? I can only find two types of cornmeal here in Germany: a very fine cornmeal, and a quite coarse polenta. I decided to take the middle ground: I civilized my coarse polenta by pulsing it a few times in my mini-processor.
The water to cornmeal ratio in Heidi’s recipes seemed quite low (2-to-1). After cooking the cornmeal the porridge wasn’t really pourable, as I had expected it to be, so I added a bit more water to thin the cornmeal down before pouring it into the baking dish. Perhaps this is why my cornmeal didn’t turn out particularly crunchy, or perhaps it’s because I used a polenta grind instead of a cornmeal grind. Along with the extra water, I also added more salt than the recipe called for, as I didn’t think 1/2 tsp. was enough for a full 1.5 cups of cornmeal. In retrospect, however, 1/2 tsp. of salt is probably a reasonable amount, considering the low amount of water called for. Normally I use at least 4-to-1 water to cornmeal, so I end up with a lot more polenta, and as a result need more salt.
When it came time to stir 2/3 of the carmelized onions into the polenta I couldn’t do it—I didn’t think there’d be enough onions left to cover the top of the polenta. Instead, I stirred less than half of the onions into the cornmeal, and then spread the remaining onions over the top of the cornmeal. This was a mistake. I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, and didn’t realize that you were supposed to spread the onions over the top only after the cornmeal is cooked. As a result, my onions started burning after only about 20 minutes, and I pulled the polenta out of the oven early (perhaps another reason my polenta didn’t end up very crunchy). Still, the polenta was delicious. It was very flavorful (and very rich). Everyone liked it. I’ll definitely make it again, following the recipe more precisely this time, but maybe using more onions.
Update January 11th: I didn’t civilize my coarse polenta this time, but just used it as it was. I added only the suggested amount of water and salt, and stirred in 2/3 of the onions as instructed. I was out of parmesan, however, so simply left it out. I baked the polenta for the full 45 minutes this time, then spread the remaining onions over the top. The final polenta was not nearly as good as last time. It was simply okay the first night, and not at all appealing as leftovers. I’m not sure if it was the absence of parmesan, or the smaller amount of water, or the longer cooking period. Whatever it was, I wouldn’t make it this way again. I also thought the carmelized onions were a bit too wormlike. I preferred them like they were last time–a bit on the charred side, but less slimy.