Grain re­ac­tion

Po­lenta im­parts warm­ing golden hues, tooth­some bite and a nutty foil to a burst of citrus in this Ital­ian lemon cake. (Serve with lash­ings of lemon curd ... )

The Guardian - Cook - - King Of Puddings - Jeremy Lee Jeremy Lee is the chef­pro­pri­etor of Quo Vadis restau­rant in Lon­don; @jere­myleeqv

As a Scot, I have lit­tle com­punc­tion in spoon­ing on lemon curd and cream, en­nobling the pud­ding might­ily ...

Grow­ing up in Scot­land, it was al­ways a good day when Mum an­nounced she was mak­ing Scotch broth or lentil soup. These nour­ished and warmed my fam­ily and cre­ated a last­ing fond­ness for beans and grains.

It took com­ing south to Lon­don from Dundee as a young cook to en­counter the many other va­ri­eties from France, Italy and Spain, all of which I have en­joyed cook­ing and eat­ing. Puy or Castel­luc­cio lentils, and can­nellini, bor­lotti or fla­geo­let beans ... won­der­ful in­gre­di­ents that of­ten keep an in­quis­i­tive cook oc­cu­pied, learn­ing their lore and how to cook them.

Among all these is also po­lenta, or corn­meal, which I have grown to like very much. I have in the past suc­cumbed to the in­stant op­tion, but gen­er­ally with re­gret: the bounc­ing blob once cooked does lit­tle to whet the ap­petite. True po­lenta – real ground corn – is cooked not un­like por­ridge, in wa­ter over a slow heat.

I love po­lenta from the Prin­ci­pato di Luce­dio. Within the walls of a very old Cis­ter­cian monastery, the corn is dried be­fore be­ing coarsely ground by stones, re­tain­ing the husk for bite. I have en­joyed this nutty, light po­lenta un­der many savoury guises: en­riched with cheese and but­ter, heaped with ragu, or cooked, then set and grilled. Best of all, though, it bakes beau­ti­fully. The re­sult­ing bis­cuits and cakes are no­table – par­tic­u­larly this recipe, which is a very fine cake, rich in corn, al­monds and lemon. It is rare in Italy to serve cream or cus­tards with pud­dings, but as a Scot, I have lit­tle com­punc­tion in spoon­ing on lemon curd and cream, en­nobling the pud­ding might­ily.

Po­lenta cake, lemon curd and cream

Serves 6-8

450g un­salted but­ter, soft­ened 200g caster sugar

5 eggs, beaten, at room tem­per­a­ture 450g whole mar­cona al­monds, ground 225g po­lenta flour

A pinch of salt

1½ tsp bak­ing pow­der

Finely grated zest of 5 un­waxed lemons Juice of 2 lemons

A bowl of jer­sey cream, to serve

For the curd Juice of 6 lemons 175g caster sugar 150g un­salted but­ter 5 eggs

1 Warm the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and line a 26cm cake tin (with a re­mov­able base, prefer­ably) with bak­ing parch­ment. Beat the but­ter and sugar to­gether un­til pale and light­ened.

2 Slowly add the eggs to the sugar and but­ter mix, al­low­ing the cake bat­ter to thor­oughly com­bine as you go.

3 Fold in the ground al­monds, po­lenta flour, salt and bak­ing pow­der, then the lemon zest and juice. Mix well.

4 De­cant the bat­ter into the cake tin. Put in the oven for 45 min­utes, then in­sert a skewer to see if the cake is baked. Cool on a wire rack.

5 Put all the lemon curd in­gre­di­ents in a bowl set over a pan of sim­mer­ing wa­ter. Turn the heat up gen­tly. Stir all the while as the but­ter melts and ev­ery­thing com­bines. Stir gen­tly and fre­quently for 20-25 min­utes, or un­til thick. Should the curd be on the thin side af­ter this time, cook for a fur­ther 10 min­utes or so. Cool.

6 To serve, de­cant the cooled curd into a pretty bowl, the cream into an­other, lift up the cake, sit upon a hand­some dish and serve.

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