March 16, 2012

Polenta Fries

I have a complicated relationship with corn.

I love corn, but sometimes, it feels like it has taken over our entire food chain. Michael Pollan explains it eloquently in this article, which he prefaces by saying: "If you are what you eat, and especially if you eat industrial food, as 99 percent of Americans do, what you are is "corn." And one of my favourite blogging farmers, Gene Logsdon, puts it this way: "Corn has become a symbol of over-industrialized farming. Corn is sort of like sex. It is such a wonderful thing that it is easy to carry to excess."

Driving through rural Ontario in the summer, you see hundreds of acres of corn, each year more than the one before. It's kind of pretty, in that vibrant green monoculture kind of way. But it's hardly an example of sustainable agriculture. About 12 years ago, I found out that most of the corn grown in Canada is genetically engineered (GE) and I started doing research about it. I didn't like what I found out. It was like opening a sci-fi thriller novel packed with unsavoury details: whistle-blowing scientists fired for sharing their findings about adverse effects of GE foods, superweeds on the rise, high-level cover-ups, bribes, and large multinational companies dictating to our government exactly what kinds of crops we should grow and eat.  Call me weird, but I just don't want to eat foods that have had foreign genes spliced into them by large companies of the likes of Monsanto. Since GE foods are not labeled in Canada, and since most farm animals eat genetically engineered corn and soy, it means there are a whole bunch of foods (including meat and dairy) that I try to avoid unless they are certified organic (which prohibits the use of GE crops). For someone who loves food like I do, it can sometimes be a real pain in the ass having to ask if the corn used in my taco is organic. I never wanted to become one of "those people" that asks too many questions at the restaurant. I kind of resent GMOs for turning me into that person because it's not that I'm a picky eater, in fact I'll eat anything and everything, but I just don't want unknown genes spliced into my sandwich, that's all. This film by award-winning journalist Marie-Monique Robin explains the whole issue better than I could ever put into words, it is really a must-see especially for us North Americans who eat this stuff on a daily basis (to see the film in its entirety, click here):





So, as you can see, when I say I have a complicated relationship with corn, I'm not kidding. But, here's the happy ending / beginning to my story... recently I met someone who made me fall in love with corn again. And in the process, I also fell in love with him. But we'll save those juicy details for another time... What I want to tell you about, is how exquisitely beautiful the corn that he grows is: a deep golden open-pollinated organic variety of field corn called Early Riser. This is what it looks like, isn't it a beauty?!




Recently, this man milled his fall harvest into cornmeal and brought me a whole bag of it. In my books this is the equivalent of a dozen roses. I think I even swooned a little bit. So these days, corn and I are on the mend. And here is what I have been making with this heavenly, GMO-free, lovingly grown and harvested organic cornmeal: POLENTA FRIES!!! These are easy to make and incredibly delicious. Please make them, eat a whole pan, and while you're at it, click here and take 2 seconds to sign a letter against this brand new genetically engineered "Agent Orange" corn that could soon be on your dinner plate if the USDA approves it. (Only you wouldn't know it, because it won't be labeled. And since we're on the topic of online petitions, here's one to sign for the labelling of GMOs)


And one more thing, and then I promise I'll shut up and leave you to eat your polenta fries in peace and quiet. Today is a global day of action against Monsanto, please see ways to get involved here. Here is a great Facebook status update to use... as a suggestion:


Dear Monsanto Staff,
Your services will no longer be needed. Your positions have been "terminated". It has been determined that God/Spirit made everything perfect the first time and no redos are necessary. You will have to find other employment that does not kill & poison the earth & it's citizens. There are many other professions with integrity that might interest you: farming, teaching, janitorial services, etc.
-The Citizens of the World.

Polenta Fries
2 3/4 cups (organic) cornmeal
6 cups water
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/4 cup butter
Chopped fresh sage (or rosemary)
Salt, to taste
Olive oil for baking sheet

This recipe will make a LOT of polenta fries. If you're only cooking for 2 or 3, you may want to half it, but otherwise, trust me, they will get eaten! Bring cornmeal, salt, and water to a slow simmer in a thick-bottomed pot, stirring often for about 20 minutes. Stir in cheese, herbs, and butter. Spread polenta out in a couple of large lasagna-style pan to approx. 3/4 inch depth. Cool in the fridge for 1 or 2 hours. Slice into  fries. Cover a baking sheet with with about 2 tbsp. olive oil and bake your fries in a 425 F oven for about 45 minutes or until nicely crisp and golden on the outside, turning them over halfway through. 



18 comments:

  1. Great post Aube - love how you weave the activism w the recipe and what a gorgeous, artistic shot to cap it all off! I could reach in and grab one.

    Oh and that corn farmer's a lucky fella!!

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  2. Thank you Aube, this is lovely, a grand reminder and gentle kick in the butt - glad you and corn is on the mend :-)

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  3. Reading this makes me feel we are fortunate here in New Zealand - it is illegal to grow or import any foodstuffs that are genetically engineered.

    Thank you for a great recipe that I will be trying soon!

    Michelle in Wellington, NZ

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    1. You are indeed very fortunate in New Zealand! Sadly, Canada is the third largest producer of genetically engineered crops in the world... maybe I should move to New Zealand! Enjoy those polenta fries, let me know how they turn out!

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  4. It looks like we are sisters in our feelings about this stuff. I was trying not to sound as horrified as I am about this, knowing well that so many can't afford to eat anything but these frankenfoods but I will not. I am as organic as I can be and even go to grass-fed now (raw milk too!). I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg with the effects that Monsanto's work has done on the environment and on us. this last win for them... modified alfalfa that has never needed pesticides but will now be flooded with roundup... that is it...I mean do you know how they spread???

    Very thoughtful. You will love einkorn but it is expensive. Nummy looking corn, btw! Thanks for visiting!

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    1. thanks! we are definitely kindred spirits in our approach to food, and i'm a huge fan of your blog! am definitely planning to try to get my hands on some einkorn and maybe even grown some, thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Great post! More people should be aware of the problems associated with the corn they eat! It is a huge commodity for many countries and from what I've read, the vast majority of the corn that is grown is used as animal feed. Sweet corn is grown specifically for human consumption, but you have to buy organic to be "mostly" assured that the corn isn't genetically engineered. I pay more for it, but it tastes better and I don't worry about eating it. Now on to your polenta fries. WOW! Great idea! I make creamy polenta all of the time and am constantly looking for ways to use the leftovers (because I always make too much on purpose. :) ) This if a fabulous idea! Thanks!

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  6. Hi MJ, glad to hear from a fellow polenta-lover! Up until recently, most of the genetically engineered corn has been field corn (used to make cornmeal & animal feed, among many other things) but recently Monsanto is trying to get genetically engineered sweet corn on the market as well. Hopefully, with enough opposition, they will back down, which is what happened with genetically engineered potatoes several years back (there was so much opposition to them, and McCain's and McDonald's refused to buy them, so they became almost obsolete, and thankfully we don't have to worry about inadvertently eating them). So public and corporate opposition to these new crops is key... here is (yet another!) important online petition to sign to try to get Walmart to refuse selling Monsanto's genetically engineered sweet corn: http://tinyurl.com/7qp2xfd Happy polenta eating! :-) Aube

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  7. Sadly, if you are eating animal protein and dairy, you are still falling for the lies of big business. These aren't foods that sustain health, and you just have to look at health in western countries to see we are in bad shape, even though we have a massive amount of nutrition. A completely non-engineered plant-based diet, eating from a wide variety of foods (they don't all have to be eaten on the same day)plus daily moderate exercise will bring you amazing health and energy and a long active life.

    Thank you for your stand against engineered food. We have the same laws in Australia, and we never know what we're eating from the supermarket. Monsanto is evil.

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  8. Hi there - I'm really excited to make polenta fries but I bought the precooked polenta-in-a-tube, do you think I can just add the cheese and seasoning and pop them in the oven?

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    1. Hi Aliza, I've never used the pre-cooked kind but if it's solid enough to slice, then it should work... I would add the herbs halfway through the baking so they don't burn (sprinkle on top of your fries) and probably the parmesan just as they come out of the oven (or a few minutes before), sprinkled on top, let me know how it works!! Good luck and bon appetit :-)

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    2. So I tried to mold them into fries, but it was either tube shape or crumble! The crumbled half I just set aside for another meal and ended up slicing circles and having sort of polenta cakes. Next time I'm definitely trying it your way!

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    3. Well I'm sure your polenta cakes tasted delicious! :-)

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  9. I wonder how they taste. Just a bit curious.

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  10. Just tried this recipe and i'm disappointed :( my batter was in the fridge for over two hours after cooling on the counter for some time and it never hardened enough to slice and handle as fries so I think the recipe should have less water. I will give it another try and reduce the water quantity, unless you have other suggestions.
    Thanks!

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    1. Hi there, I'm so sorry they didn't turn out! I've made this recipe several times and it has always works well. What type of polenta / cornmeal did you use? We are probably using different types. I've had a look at some of the other polenta fries recipes out there and several have even less corn to water ratio than mine, but some of them do have more. So I would try it again with less water- try 1 part polenta to 2 parts water. It's really a delicious thing, so it's worth trying again. Again, I'm really sorry it didn't work out, let me know how it goes! (In the meantime, I'll up the polenta quantity slightly in my recipe here)

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  11. Se ven deliciosa sus barritas de polenta, super crujientes y muy apetecibles!!! Muchas gracias por la receta!!!

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