HAM AND POLENTA SPOONBREAD (for six to eight)
“The deep copper pots that you see all over Venice, in homes, antique shops and restaurants, are mementos of the time when polenta – that wonderful peasant dish of cornmeal mush – was cooked over the fire every day in every home. It was – and to some extent still is – the mainstay of the Venetian diet, often taking the place of bread.” Arrigo Cipriani, The Harry’s Bar Cookbook
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, more for the pan
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
1 large yellow onion, chopped
½ pound leftover roasted fresh ham, chopped (about 2 cups), or substitute roast pork or cured baked ham
4 ounces fontina, grated (1 cup)
2 ounces Asiago (1/2 cup)
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 dashes red hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
freshly ground black pepper
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375*. Lightly butter a 6 cup baking dish, preferably oval.
2. Bring the milk and ½ teaspoon salt to a simmer in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the polenta. Continue whisking until thick, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12 inch skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and soft, about 15 minutes. Add the ham and stir often until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
4. Stir the ham mixture, cheeses, egg yolks, basil, oregano, thyme, hot pepper sauce, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper into the polenta; mix well.
5. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the beaten egg whites into the polenta and then spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into pieces and dot on top.
6. Bake until brown and puffed, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving with a large spoon.
from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough, Fine Cooking Magazine, issue 108