Vincent Price’s Pasticcio di polenta – a rich, but simple lockdown larder recipe

As we are all in lockdown mode at the moment, I’ve been trying to avoid heading out to the shops as much as possible and so am relying on what’s in my kitchen cupboards to rustle up some tasty dishes with the minimum amount of ingredients and fuss.

Well, I found some leftover cornmeal (AKA polenta) that I had bought to make a lemon drizzle cake ages ago and decided that would be my key ingredient. OK, the expiry date was 2014!!!!, but I was not going to throw it out. Now what to make?

My go-to…. Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes

My go-to book is Mary and Vincent Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes which was first published in 1965, and got a 50th anniversary reprint in 2015. I have tried quite a few now (check them out in the Cooking with Vincent and his Co*Stars section of this website), and I found one that seemed not to elaborate and required just some basic ingredients: Pasticcio Di Polenta – or Cornmeal with Mushrooms.

INGREDIENTS
Yellow cornmeal
Salt
Butter (I used unsalted)
Bread crumbs (I used panko)
Mushrooms (I used chestnut)
Cream, (I used double)
Parmesan cheese, grated

POLENTA
Vincent and Mary’s method of making polenta required a double boiler, which I do not have. So I used two saucepans. Also there was no amount given as to how much cornmeal to add to the quart of water, so I just made a guess (it worked I think).

Firstly, I brought the water (3 UK cups) to the boil, added salt, then gradually mixed in the polenta (I used 2 cups as I wanted to use up what I had left in the packet), and stir quickly.

Once it had thickened (which was very quick), I placed the saucepan on top of another one half filled with boiling water, covered it, and left it to simmer for 2 hours.

Then I poured it into a casserole dish (there was too much mixture for a loaf shape dish, which is in the original recipe) and chilled it overnight.

PASTICCIO
1. Preheat oven to moderate (350/4).
2. Turn out chilled polenta and slice it into 3 horizontal layers.
3. Butter the baking dish and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs.
4. Place a sliced layer of polenta on bottom of dish. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Cover with: 1/2 cup sliced mushroom caps and 3 tablespoons cream. Sprinkle with: 1 tablespoon grated parmesan.
5. Do the same with the second slice.
6. Put last slice on top. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoons grated parmesan. Cover and bake 1 1/2hours in a moderate oven.

Not the most even of horizontal slices are they?
I used two mushroom caps for each layer. Top tip: there’s no need to waste those leftover mushroom stalks, keep them for use in a stir fry or soup
Yum! Was it rich? Yes siree!

MY VERDICT
Delicious with a capital D and It didn’t matter that the cornmeal was four years past its expiry date. Although in retrospect I think a loaf tin would have given me extra thickness so as to cut the three slices more evenly.

Now what also attracted me to making polenta, was that it is very versatile. I’ve already made chips (which went very well with the homemade strawberry and chilli jam that I had made a few days ago with some strawberries that were just about to go off), and I shall next try Vincent’s suggesting of frying some slices, then wrapping them in bacon and baking them until golden brown and crisp. I’ve also found another packet of cornmeal, so I think I’m going to whip up some muffins next.

These polenta crisps were light and crispy.
Here’s the actual recipe (with my notes) from A Treasury of Great Recipes
This classic culinary tome got a 50th Anniversary reprint in 2015

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