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OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Polenta Nachos are a tasty twist on traditional

by Kelly Brant | September 2, 2020 at 4:28 a.m.
Polenta Nachos are rounds of pan-fried polenta topped with seasoned beef, beans, cheese, jalapenos, radishes, olives, tomatoes, pickled onion and cilantro. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

In the winter, I love serving pot roast or chili over fried polenta. But in summer, my cravings turn to cooler fare.

Here, prepared polenta is cut into rounds, pan-fried in olive oil and topped like nachos — I used leftover taco meat, kidney beans, jalapenos, cheddar cheese, julienned radishes, pickled red onion (from last week's column), cilantro, cherry tomatoes (for me) and sliced black olives (for my husband). If I'd had one, I would have added a diced avocado or a spoonful of guacamole, but I didn't.

These are not your average eat-with-your-fingers pickup nachos. These are fork nachos.

We call them Polentchos.

A word of warning though: Prepared polenta, although firm, is quite moist so there will be quite a bit of popping and spattering as the rounds cook in the hot oil. To cut down on some of the spattering, be sure to thoroughly dry the polenta before and after slicing to absorb as much of the moisture as possible.

Prepared polenta is available at most grocery stores although it tends to be in a different part of the store everywhere I shop. Some stores have it with the pasta, some with the organic foods, some have it in a refrigerated case, some have it on the international aisle.

If you have a broiler-safe skillet large enough to cook all of the polenta in a single layer, this is a one-pan recipe. I don't have such a skillet, so I cook the polenta in batches and transfer the slices to a rimmed baking sheet, top them and finish the nachos under the broiler.

Polenta Nachos

1 (18-ounce) tube polenta, drained and thoroughly patted dry

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces cooked, seasoned ground beef, turkey or protein crumbles

1 (15-ounce) can pinto or kidney beans, drained

8 ounces shredded cheddar

Desired toppings such as thinly sliced jalapeno, diced tomatoes, sliced black olives, julienned radishes, pickled or raw red onion, cilantro, sour cream and/or salsa

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the polenta into ½-inch or so rounds. Arrange the cut rounds on paper towels and pat tops dry.

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add as many rounds of polenta as will fit in a single layer and fry until light golden brown on the first side, carefully flip, and continue cooking until second side is golden. Transfer cooked rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet, arranging overlapping slightly in a circle.

Heat broiler.

Scatter the cooked meat or protein crumbles over the polenta, then top with the beans and cheese. Broil 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese is melted, rotating pan for even browning. Top as desired with jalapeno, tomatoes, olives, radishes, pickled onion, cilantro, sour cream and/or cilantro. Serve right away.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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