DIY Fresh…Polenta Fries and BC Cherry Catsup

There are few Canadian food combinations as classic as fries and ketchup unless, of course, you grew up eating mayo with your fries like I did. Us ‘mayo folk’ can’t understand the sweetness – commercial ketchup has always struck me as an oddly sweet and sour paste. Of course, ketchup lovers tend to look at us pouring rich, white mayo over fries like we are on the next ambulance to a triple bypass.

However, quite a few years back now, I was enlightened on the ketchup front by the banana catsup and masala fries served by my once favourite, now defunct restaurant, Monsoon. This was a magical blend of sweet and savoury and the banana flavour, which you would expect to be strange, was transcendent. Not too sweet, balanced acidity (but not sour) and plenty of spice. Oh, how I miss that snack! And the mango cocktails…but I digress.

Another favourite Main St haunt, the Cascade Room, introduced me to the marvels of polenta fries. Crisp on the outside, creamy (and solar hot!) on the inside. They serve theirs with a curried mayo and well, probably deep fry that goodness. Heather and I thought we could take another turn on the catsup train with one of the most luscious fruits of the summer: cherries. So this, our first DIY Fresh post is all about making a classic (but typically lifeless and over processed) food pairing and making it fresh, healthy and exciting. Heather has created a sweet and spicy catsup and I had some fun serving up polenta fries. Talk about a perfect pair!

Polenta Fries, Two Ways, with BC Cherry Catsup

Basic Polenta

1 cup organic corn polenta
3 cups of water
1/2 tsp sea salt

butter or olive oil for greasing pans

Parmesan Sage Variation

1/4 cup shredded fresh sage
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste

Pistachio Vanilla Variation

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1/4 tsp freshly scraped vanilla bean paste
1 – 2 tbsp honey, depending on desired sweetness

To make the polenta, you’ll need a strong arm or a companion with a strong arm. Ply them with wine as they toil away. As an Italian chef friend taught me, most of us seriously undercook our polenta. Those 5 minute recipes? Sacrilege! You gotta work! 

Line an 8 x 8 baking dish with parchment down the centre and across two sides and grease with olive oil or butter, as desired.

In a large pasta pot, stir polenta, water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly to a rapid simmer and stir the heck out of the polenta with the longest spoon you have until fully cooked and very thick, about 25 – 30 minutes. Don’t stop stirring – it will stick and burn. Watch out for the angry corn grits as they spit and pop.

Stir your selected seasonings through the polenta. Pour the polenta into the greased, lined pan as evenly as possible. Allow to cool for a minute or two and when it is touchable, rub hands with either butter or oil and coax the polenta into an even, flat shape. Allow to cool further and then chill for at least one hour or overnight (make ahead alert!).

When chilled, turn out onto a cutting board and then cut polenta into quarters (4 even squares). Cut each square into 4 fries to make 16 fries.

To cook, you have two options. Hmm…polenta fries two ways with two ways to cook? Technically, that is polenta fries 4 ways!

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place polenta fries on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake until golden brown and crispy, turning once halfway through (about 15 minutes a side). If the fries aren’t crisped enough, they can break as you flip them – watch out.

2. In a large frying pan, pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan by a few millimetres. Heat oil over medium high and when hot enough (touch a fry to the pan and if it bubbles, it’s ready) place half the polenta fries in the pan. Don’t overcrowd. Cook until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes then turn over and cook. Keep fries hot in the oven at 200°F until ready to serve.

BC Cherry Catsup
makes 1-1/2 cups.
4 cups sweet BC cherries (about 1-1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp shallot or red onion, finely minced
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ancho chili pepper or cayenne pepper

Pit cherries and measure 4 cups of fruit. Place cherries and all other ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until fruit is tender, about 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool.
Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until fairly smooth. Cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or fill in canning jars and process in a water bath.

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