Maize polenta is creamy, delicious and filling, and for centuries represented the main staple in the poor, everyday cuisine of a large part of Northern Italy. Once it cools off and hardens, it can be recycled into a variety of dishes, from a “pasticcio” with meat or cheeses, to a cake, to these savory fried sandwiches (a classic Jewish Italian recipe, and perfect for Hanukkah). If you don’t like anchovies ( I LOVE them!), you can replace them with smoked cheese.
- 1 cup polenta (finely ground or quick cooking)
- salt (about 1 tsp)
- water to make polenta (follow instruction on the package, or about 3 cups)
- 12 anchovies (salt packed is better, but oil-packed is OK))
- 4-5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil to make anchovy paste
- 1 clove garlic (whole)
- dredging flour
- 3 eggs
- olive oil for frying
In a large heavy pot, boil water and add salt. Pour in the corn meal in a thin stream whisking vigorously (use a whisk, not a spoon, to avoid clumping) and cook for about one minute or two before switching to a wooden spoon as the polenta thickens. Keep stirring until the polenta is fully cooked (about 30 minutes for regular polenta, and 3-5 minutes for “instant” polenta). Pour onto an oiled marble surface or cookie sheet or parchment paper. Spread out flat in a layer that’s about 1/4-inch thick, and allow to cool completely.
In the meantime, rinse the anchovies (removing any bones). Heat olive oil in a small skillet on medium heat with the garlic clove. When the garlic is light brown, discard it and add the anchovies, stirring until they melt into a paste. Set aside.
Pour about 2” oil into a heavy-bottomed wide pot with tall sides (I use my le Creuset Dutch oven) or into your deep fryer. Heat the oil until it forms many tiny bubbles around a piece of bread or cracker thrown into the oil. If you have a candy thermometer, or are using a deep fryer, the right temperature is about 355 to 365 F.
Using a knife or a cookie cutter, cut the polenta into regular triangles or rounds about 2” wide.
Spread half of the polenta pieces with the anchovy paste and cover with a second piece, making “sandwiches. Dredge the sandwiches in flour and then in the slightly beaten eggs, and fry for about 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to maintain the temperature of the oil and to flip them only once (if you keep turning them, they absorb more oil).
Drain on a triple layer of paper towel and serve hot.