I saw something close to this recently in a Santa Barbara deli. It looked so amazing I went home and immediately began creating the recipe below.
The original was three layers high and cut into three-inch squares. My version is round and not as tall which I think makes for better presentation. In addition, with polenta having originated in the Friuli–Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy, my recipe has the colors of the Italian flag: green layer (fresh pesto), white layer (fresh mozzarella), and red layer (roasted red pepper).
Be sure to buy a nicely aged Modena balsamic vinegar. It will make all the difference when you serve this appetizer to friends and family!
2 cups plus ½ cup boiling water
½ cup medium-ground polenta
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary (chopped fine)
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
2½ cup packed fresh basil
½ cup packed fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic (chopped)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Roasted Pepper Ingredients:
2 red bell peppers
1 cup balsamic vinegar
16 ounces fresh Mozzarella
Fill a pan with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Bring a second saucepan with ½ cup water to a simmer, cover, and set aside (I use my stove top tea kettle for this). Whisk polenta, salt, pepper, and herbs into the first pan of boiling water. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring continually until polenta thickens and begins to bubble. Stir in ¼ cup of the simmering water and cook while continuing to stir until absorbed. Repeat with remaining water until polenta is soft and creamy. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, for desired consistency. Stir in the mozzarella cheese and turn out onto a cutting board dusted with polenta grain. Spread until you have a ⅜-inch slab. Be sure to spread polenta out evenly so you can get 8 evenly cut rounds for assembly.
In a food processor, combine the basil, parsley, Parmesan, olive oil, and garlic. Process until smooth. Season with the salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Roasted Pepper Directions:
Cut bell pepper into eight pieces as you might an apple. Remove any seeds and ribbing from the inside. Place pieces on a cookie sheet, skin side up, and place in the oven on the middle rack. Roast under broiler until skins just begin to blacken – about 4 – 5 minutes. Turn bell pepper pieces over and roast for another 4 minutes. Remove from oven, place in a bowl and cover with a towel to keep warm. Set aside.
Balsamic Glaze Directions:
Place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half – about 3 – 4 minutes. Cover and set aside.
Using a biscuit cutter (2½ to 3-inches in diameter), trim the mozzarella slices to create 8 rounds of cheese. Using the same biscuit cutter, cut 8 rounds from the polenta.
Place polenta rounds on the cookie sheet and place on the first rack directly under the broiler. Broil each side for about 1 minute. Remove from oven.
To make stacks, place a round of mozzarella on top of one of the polenta rounds. Spread a tablespoon of pesto on top of the moz. Top with a slice of red pepper. Repeat again so that you have two layers. Insert toothpick in top of stack to keep it together (if necessary). This will make 4 total stacks.
Drizzle a tablespoon of balsamic reduction in the middle of four separate plates. Carefully place one polenta stack on each plate. Spoon additional balsamic reduction on top and serve immediately.