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Versatility boosts polenta’s value

Polenta is a delicious dish made from ground corn that can be an appetizer, side or main dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be sweet or savory. Served soft, like mashed potatoes, or cooled and sliced into pieces. It can even be baked crisp into fries.

Here’s how to make the simplest polenta. Made this way it’s about 10 cents per half-cup serving. It doesn’t get much more frugal and fabulous than that.

Bring 6 cups water a boil and add ½ teaspoon salt, then reduce the heat to low. Add 2 cups cornmeal in a steady slow stream, whisking to avoid lumps, stirring until thickened. It will bubble and splash. Add 1 tablespoon butter as it thickens. Cook for 15 minutes and serve.

This next recipe is polenta fit for company but so easy you’ll make it any day of the week.

CREAMY POLENTA

Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

What you’ll need

2 cups water

2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups cornmeal

1 tablespoon butter

4 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Here’s how

In a large saucepan, bring the water and milk to a boil. Add salt and reduce heat to low. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking to avoid lumps. Keep stirring on low heat until thickened. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the butter, cream cheese and Parmesan. Keep stirring. You can tell it’s done when it pulls away from the sides of the pot. Serve immediately. Or make the recipe below.

While polenta is quick and easy, this layered torta is more of a weekend dish but it’s worth every second.

MEDITERRANEAN POLENTA TORTA

Prepare the fillings first and set aside, then make your creamy polenta. Polenta spreads easier when freshly made.

What you’ll need

Spinach layer:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon shallot or sweet onion, minced

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 10-ounce box frozen spinach, thawed and drained

4 ounces cream cheese

1 tablespoon Parmesan

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zucchini layer:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium zucchinis, about one pound, sliced

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, cut into strips

Ricotta layer:

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, diced

Topping:

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons Parmesan

Here’s how

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray cooking spray onto a 9-inch spring form pan.

In a large skillet heated to medium high, add the olive oil and shallot, cooking until translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked and lightly browned. Add the spinach and heat through. Add the cream cheese and Parmesan, stirring as everything blends together. Place in a bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet, add oil and sauté the zucchini slices in batches until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, blend together the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella and roasted pepper, set aside.

To assemble the torta, make creamy polenta using the recipe above. Divide polenta into thirds. Place one third into the prepared pan, spreading evenly to form a layer. Place the spinach and mushroom mixture on the polenta and carefully spread into a layer. Place another third of the polenta and smooth into a layer.

Next, arrange the sliced zucchini evenly over the polenta; top with strips of roasted red pepper. Add the ricotta mixture and spread into an even layer.

Finish with the remaining polenta, smoothing the top. Place small pieces of butter over the top and sprinkle with Parmesan. This will brown beautifully as it bakes.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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