This dish is modeled after one I enjoyed during a leisurely three-hour lunch at 'inoteca in New York City: an elegant, beautifully fried polenta steak piled high with delicately shaved summer squash, fresh corn kernels, and julienned basil. Normally I’m not a huge fan of combining a piping hot protein straight out of the oven with a cold, raw topping. But the quality of the summer vegetables made them perfectly crunchy and vibrant, and they complimented the creamy, sharpness of the Parmesan polenta and the salty, smokiness of the crumbled speck on top. I've made the corn and squash optional here since they are out of season, and the salad is just as delicious with juicy tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
For the polenta
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup polenta
chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
For the topping
4 slices prosciutto
3 medium tomatoes, preferably heirloom, seeded and chopped
¼ lb fresh mozzarella or boccacini, roughly shredded or chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed (optional)
1 small summer squash, quartered and thinly sliced (optional)
In a medium stock pot, bring water (or stock) and cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly pour the polenta into the pot in a gentle stream, while whisking briskly. Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for ten minutes, or until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Add the thyme, cheese and butter and whisk to combine. Taste for seasoning, and add salt as necessary.
Butter an 8 x 8 inch baking dish and evenly distribute the polenta. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Fill a large skillet or Dutch oven with about an inch of vegetable oil, and place it over high heat. Remove the polenta from the fridge and cut it into 4 squares. Pat dry each steak dry, and add to the pan, two at a time. Fry each steak on both sides until brown and crispy, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the steaks to a paper towel to drain.
While the oil is still hot, add the prosciutto one slice at a time and quickly fry on both sides, about a minute. Set aside to drain.
In the meantime, combine the tomatoes, cheese, basil, olive oil, balsamic, and salt in a medium mixing bowl (and the squash and corn, if using). Toss until all ingredients are well incorporated and taste for seasoning.
Arrange polenta steaks on a large platter or on individual plates and top with the salad mixture. Garnish with some coarsely torn basil and a handful of crumbled crispy prosciutto.
Phoebe is a writer, gluten-free chef, culinary instructor, award-winning blogger, and author of The Wellness Project. You can find her healthy comfort food and gluten-free finds on www.FeedMePhoebe.com