Here I've taken another favorite food, polenta, and turned it into crusts for these mini polenta pizzas.
|Mini Polenta Pizzas|
With some planning ahead, and clever use of leftovers, you can actually pull these together in a short amount of time. A win-win all around.
Making Great Pizzas in Less Time
As our personal time gets more and more crunched, we just don't have the luxury any more to spend a full day in the kitchen making pizza dough, sauce and all of the various toppings. So where can you save time? Let's look at what you can make ahead. One obvious candidate is the pizza sauce. Nowadays, when I make my amazing pizza and pasta sauce, I will make a pretty large batch so that there's a good stash of it in the freezer for later use.
Next was the crust. While my wife had perfected a great thin crust dough, the time needed to make it, proof it, roll it, etc. just isn't there. Dough in a can lacks any character, so that's not an option. Frozen dough? Believe it or not, that's where we landed. A few years back I discovered Vicolo Cornmeal Crust Shells in the frozen section and haven't looked back. They're crispy, corny and the perfect size for 2 normal servings of pizza.
Using Polenta for a Pizza CrustSo where does the polenta come in? Well, I was out of the frozen cornmeal crusts and remembered reading on the Cooking & Beer blog recently about their Polenta Pizza recipe and thought it was a great idea. I make a fair amount of polenta, so I decided to give it a go.
Now, you could use the polenta in a tube from the refrigerated section, but it's not the best option. One reason is that I find there's an odd metallic, processed flavor to it. The other reason is that polenta is super easy to make at home. It's not as easy as instant oatmeal, but it's pretty close.
For a sturdy polenta, I like to use a 3:1 ratio of water to the coarsely ground cornmeal. I say coarsely ground because it's different than the ordinary cornmeal you probably have in your pantry. You know that blue and yellow canister of cornmeal from Quaker? It's ground too fine. It's perfect for making cornbread, but not so much for polenta.
Homemade Pizza IdeasAfter the crusts were ready, we made three different types of pizza:
- Meaty: Canadian bacon, pepperoni and onions. Always a crowd pleaser
- Pesto and Bacon: Yep, Basil Pesto and Bacon go great together. This was actually my favorite. If you haven't made pesto before, check out my sun-dried tomato pesto recipe and simply omit the tomatoes
- Spinach and Tomato: I had a single roma tomato leftover on the counter that I chopped up and combined with some spinach for a vegetarian pizza
- Broccoli Rabe and Sausage (Honorable Mention): Didn't make this one this time, but it's one you should try. Cook some Italian sausage and combine it with a few pieces of broccoli rabe. It's a staple at Spacca Napoli, an awesome pizzeria in our neighborhood.
A word on cheese. If you are still using shredded mozzarella in a bag, I strongly encourage a move to fresh mozzarella. The BelGioioso brand is pretty widely available and sells both fresh mozz in water as well as in packages. They're both great - and are a quantum leap forward in both taste and texture.
Step 1: Make the PolentaYou can easily make the actual polenta ahead of time, as it will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Slowly is the key word here. If you do too much at once, you'll have lumpy polenta. Once the full cup has been stirred in, lower the heat and continue stirring for a few more minutes.
I've read that adding a pinch of baking soda keeps it creamy and prevents clumping. I've tried it and really haven't noticed much of a difference. I think as long as you go slow with the cornmeal, and watch for lumps, you'll be OK.
Reduce the heat to your lowest setting (to prevent sticking and burning) and let this cook for another 20-30 minutes. Near the end you can bring in some more flavors. This is where I'll add in crushed garlic or cheddar cheese to the mix as well as check on the need for salt & pepper.
Step 2: Make the CrustPreheat your oven to 450 degrees. Let the polenta cool and line a sheet pan with either foil or a silpat. Spread the polenta out into a thin layer and place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour to set and firm up.
After it has chilled and firmed, you can cut the polenta into discs to use for the mini pizzas. However, you can also leave it in one large sheet as well.
|Cooked polenta spread out on a sheet pan|
Step 3: Bake the Polenta CrustsJust before I cooked them, I brushed the tops with some garlic infused olive oil that was leftover from making roasted garlic confit. This helped them get even crispier, and added some more garlic flavor. And if there's one thing I like, it's more garlic flavor. You could use regular olive oil or melted butter here just as well.
Place the sheet pan in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. You want to see them firm enough that they stay together when lifted with a spatula.
|Baked Mini Polenta Pizza Crusts|
Step 3: Create the pizzaHere's the fun part. Throw down some sauce, put on your toppings and add a few slices of mozzarella. Another 10 minutes in the oven at 450 and they are all set!
Please do share any other great pizza ideas that you have, or any thoughts on the polenta crusts.