For a recent party, Linda Sue Scott, a friend of mine, created a huge polenta cake. The layers were filled alternately with bright green pesto and roasted red bell pepper sauce. It was dazzling. But, most important, it tasted fabulous. The bright green pesto and the red pepper sauce honored the colors of the Italian flag, which was a perfect touch.
The various parts can be made several days ahead of time and refrigerated to be assembled at the last minute. The ingredients are not expensive, and you don't have to be a three-star chef to make it.
The flavored olive oil is based on the traditional dipping sauce for an Italian bagna cauda --an antipasto of raw vegetables and garlicky, anchovy-laden olive oil. You can make it separately and serve it with sticks of raw fennel bulb, strips of red bell pepper, zucchini, celery and arugula.
POLENTA TORTA MISTO A LA LINDA SUE
3 cups yellow cornmeal
12 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Bring 10 cups water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and stir.
Combine cornmeal and 2 cups water in bowl and stir to combine. This keeps cornmeal from lumping when added to boiling water. Stir cornmeal mixture into boiling salted water, mixing well. If cornmeal splatters out of pot, cover with lid slightly ajar so steam can escape but spattering is confined.
Cook until creamy and thickened, not stiff. Divide polenta into 3 well-oiled 9-inch round cake pans, spreading it evenly and level. Brush olive oil over top of each polenta round to keep from drying. Cool.
Recipe can be prepared to this point and wrapped and refrigerated or frozen for later use. Makes 12 cups polenta.
1 cup firmly packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
Puree basil, garlic and pine nuts or walnuts in food processor or blender until thick and finely blended. Slowly add olive oil while machine is running. Add cheeses and blend just until well mixed. Taste for salt and add if needed. Recipe can be doubled. Makes about 1 cup pesto.
FLAVORED OLIVE OIL
4 anchovy fillets, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1 cup olive oil
Cook anchovies, garlic, butter and olive oil in small, heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Stir and correct seasoning when sauce is hot, adding pepper to taste. Makes about 1 1/2 cups flavored olive oil.
ROASTED RED PEPPER SAUCE
2 pounds red bell peppers
4 cloves garlic
2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese or 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Core peppers and split in half lengthwise, removing seeds and veins. Place peppers on baking sheet skin-side up. Flatten each half by firmly pressing down. Add garlic to baking sheet. Bake at 500 degrees until each pepper half has large blackened areas. Turn garlic it browns. Remove garlic when golden. Do not burn.
Peel peppers and puree until smooth and thick in food processor or blender with garlic, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Can be stored up to 3 days in refrigerator or frozen for longer storage. Makes 2 cups sauce.
If Polenta rounds have been refrigerated, warm in oven. Place 1 polenta round in center of large platter. Spread half of Roasted Red Pepper Sauce over polenta. Place second Polenta round on top and spread with Pesto. Top with final Polenta round, then spread with remaining Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. Drizzle Flavored Olive Oil over all. Garnish with roasted garlic cloves.
Makes 16 to 18 servings.
Each serving contains about:
419 calories; 504 mg sodium; 21 mg cholesterol; 33 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.