Polenta Stacks with Spicy Spinach, Coppacola, and Smoked Gouda

Who doesn’t love creamy polenta?  It’s the Italian version of southern grits, sans the stick and a half of butter.  I have always preferred my grits firmer, not soupy, so it’s natural that I should have a love affair with polenta.  I remember the first time I made polenta from scratch … I wanted to dishevel the beautiful accompaniments on my plate and live off this newly discovered culinary treasure.

Firm, golden polenta stacked with spicy sauteed red pepper spinach, luscious Italian coppacola, and smoked gouda, laid gently over a pool of tomato basil marinara – on days when I need a quick, homemade meal, I always turn to this tried and true recipe.  I’ve made a few alterations over the years and I noted those in italics.

Polenta Stacks

Polenta Stacks with Ham, Spinach, and Cheese
by Food Network

1 recipe quick polenta, firmed up, recipe follows (I prefer to buy a tube of pre-made polenta to keep on hand for this recipe when I don’t have hours to wait for the polenta to firm)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 cloves garlic, minced (I mince 4 cloves)
Pinch red pepper flakes (I add 1-1/2 teaspoons to give it some spice)
12 ounces baby spinach
Coarse salt
10 ounces Black Forest ham, soprasata, or coppacola (I prefer the coppacola)
8 ounces gouda or fontina cheese, cut into thick slices (Smoked Gouda is delicious, but watch it carefully as it burns easily in the broiler)
1 (15 1/2 ounce) jar marinara sauce

Position a rack about 6-inches from the broiler and preheat to high. Cut the polenta into 8 squares and transfer to a sheet pan. Pat dry with a paper towel and lightly brush with olive oil. Broil until tops are browned, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from oven.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes, stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Put the spinach in the pan and season with salt, cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Reserve pan.

Divide the wilted spinach among each polenta square. Divide slices of the meat on top of the spinach and top each square with the cheese. Place under the broiler until cheese melts and just begins to brown, another 4 minutes.

Heat the sauce in the skillet used for the spinach. Ladle some sauce onto each of 4 plates. Place 2 polenta cakes in the middle of each plate and serve.

Copyright (c) 2004 Television Food Network, G.P., All Rights Reserved.

Quick Polenta
by Food Network

2 cups chicken broth, low-sodium canned or homemade
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the broth and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta, reduce the heat to low, and cook, whisking occasionally, until the polenta is thick and creamy, about 15 minutes.

Pull the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cheese, butter, salt, and pepper. Pour into a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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