Polenta Feastette

What could be more Christmas appropriate than polenta? Lots of things, you say? I decided that an Italian feastestte (my Mom’s famous phrase) of polenta with tons of toppings would be a perfect Christmas dinner for Julia's Mom and our siblings (except for Jacob to whom we all wished a Happy Birthday). I served the polenta buffet-style with opening bites of Caprese salad skewers and pizza bombs. The skewers were just four mini mozzarella balls, four grape tomatoes and 3 basil leaves with salt and pepper. Simple, classic and always tasty. The pizza bombs came from a recipe – a bad recipe – and though they tasted good were a pain/mess to make and did not come out right. I'll spare you the details since I wouldn't recommend them.

The real winner was the polenta itself. Instead of the painstaking traditional way to make polenta, I used a far easier no-stir, no-stick way – in my slow cooker. I got up around 9:30 in the morning and added 3 cups of medium ground cornmeal into my slow cooker and then added more than ten cups of cold water. I probably would have put eleven or twelve cups but I reached my cooker's capacity and needed room to stir and add a couple more ingredients like three teaspoons of salt and three tablespoons of canola oil. I stirred this whole mixture with a whisk until everything was well incorporated, put on the lid and turned the cooker on low. I was estimating it would be done within six hours but was going to eyeball it. I wanted soft yet thick polenta. From there I gave it a stir with the whisk every hour or so to keep everything incorporated and checking on the consistency. It thickened beautifully and with about an hour left added a few tablespoons of Smart Balance (or butter) and a little more salt since I tasted it and it needed a little more. It seemed just about done around five and a half hours and I switched the cooker to warm to keep it warm yet firm it ever so slightly.

When all my toppings, which I had been whipping together in the final hour or so, were ready, we poured the whole vat of polenta onto our huge platter and garnished with some grilled store-bought hard polenta slices (for fun mostly) and served it buffet-style.

Oh and what were these elusive polenta toppings?

Cold: Cherry tomatoes halves, Roma tomato slices, Radish slices, Kalamata olives without pits, Roasted red pepper slices, Sundried tomatoes, Medium Salsa, Fontina cheese, Reggiano Parmesano cheese, Ricotta cheese, Chives

Warm: Marinara sauce, Red pepper alfredo sauce, Red onion sautéed slices, Grilled Haloumi cheese, Grilled baby zucchini, Grilled patty-pan squashes, Sautéed baby Portobello mushrooms, Crispy diced bacon, Grilled asparagus tips, Seared chicken thighs, Olive oil roasted g

Everyone came up for firsts, seconds and as much as they wanted – it made a lot of polenta, and the toppings were aplenty. Everyone got to customize their meal to their tastes, habits and hankerings. It was awesome and I loved it almost as much as our guests loved it.

Don’t let this meal sound elusive to you – with a little coordination it was actually one of the easier party meals I’ve ever pulled off.

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