This is a delightful warm winter salad, it has weight yet still retains a lovely freshness. Morsels of fried polenta and chunks of roasted nashi mingle together and are balanced with crunchy slivers of fennel and watercress.
- 400 ml water
- ¼ tsp salt
- 80 g polenta
- 10 g butter
- 15 g parmesan, finely grated
- 1 lemon, zest finely grated
- 25 g butter, extra
- 1 large nashi, cut into 12 wedges, core cut out
- 40 ml cider vinegar
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1 medium bulb fennel, thinly shaved
- 2 cups picked watercress
- extra virgin olive oil
- squeeze of lemon juice
- 30 g parmesan, shaved
- ½ cup chive batons (3 cm long)
- salt flakes, black and white pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
In a medium-sized heavy-based saucepan, bring the water and salt to the boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, slowly rain in your polenta, whisking as you go. Keep whisking as it comes to the boil and then turn the heat to low. You’ll need tend to your polenta, stirring often as it cooks - it does have a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it’s been cooking for 40 minutes, have a taste - it should still have a nice texture to it but should be cooked.
Once your polenta is cooked, remove it from the heat and add in the butter, grated parmesan and lemon zest, season with white pepper and stir well to incorporate. Spoon the polenta into a rectangular (10 cm x 8 cm) or square vessel. You can use a plastic container or a tray - whatever allows you to lay the polenta flat so it reaches a height of about 2.5 cm. Make sure the vessel is lined with some baking paper as this will help you remove it once it’s cooled.
Set the polenta aside to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to the fridge. It is much easier to work with if it’s left overnight; however if you’re in a hurry, just give it enough time to be properly cold.
Turn the polenta out onto a board and cut into square-ish shapes, about 5 cm x 5 cm.
Heat the vegetable oil to about 180°C. Carefully lower the polenta pieces into the oil in 2 batches. The trick here is to gently lower them in, giving them a little time for the outer edges to fry and harden, so they don’t stick to the bottom. Delicately shuffle the pieces around so they don’t stick to the pan or each other, making sure not to move them too much as they can break apart. Cook each batch until crispy and golden (about 3 minutes), then lay them onto paper towel to drain.
Meanwhile, place a large frying pan onto a high heat, wait till it gets very hot and then throw in the extra butter - it should start to melt and sizzle immediately. Swirl it around and wait until it’s turned foamy and has started to brown. Once the butter is brown, add your nashi wedges to the pan, cut-side down, so they lay flat. Season with salt and black pepper and give them a little jiggle. Cook the nashi for about a minute on each side, just long enough to get a little colour and warm through. Splash in the cider vinegar and then remove the pan from the heat. Set aside.
Once all your polenta is cooked, transfer it to a large mixing bowl, add the nashi and any juices you can scrape from the pan. Give it a gentle toss to combine.
Throw in the fennel, watercress, a healthy splash of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and mix gently to combine. Season with a little salt and black pepper.
Once you are happy with the seasoning, add in the shaved parmesan and chives, giving it a final gentle mix. Serve in a large bowl and eat immediately.
• This dish is good as a shared salad or plated individually as a starter. It is best eaten straight away as it doesn’t sit well for too long.
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Tiffany Page.
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This recipe is part of The seasonal cook: Pear column.
View previous The seasonal cook columns and recipes.