Polenta Gratins with Poached Eggs and Sheep's-Milk Cheese
It's hard to go wrong with a recipe that features oozing soft-poached eggs, warm polenta and gooey, salty cheese. Morgan Brownlow buys a special red-and-white variety of polenta from Anson Mills in South Carolina, an artisanal producer that grinds a rare heirloom corn (ansonmills.com). Whatever polenta or stone-ground cornmeal you use, Brownlow says, make sure it's fresh; check the expiration date on the package. Fresh polenta has a distinctive, sweet corn aroma that transforms this dish.
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4 cups water
1 cup artisanal polenta or stone-ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 large eggs
3 ounces young sheep's-milk cheese, such as Cacio di Roma or Manchego, shredded (1 cup)
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a simmer with a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta until smooth. Cook over low heat, whisking often, until the polenta is tender and very thick, about 40 minutes. Stir in the butter, olive oil and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.
In a large skillet, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the vinegar. Break the eggs into ramekins and, one by one, add them to the simmering water. Poach the eggs until the whites are firm but the yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.
Preheat the broiler. Whisk the polenta over moderately high heat for 2 minutes to break up any lumps and heat through. Spoon the polenta into 6 individual gratin dishes and set the dishes on a baking sheet. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the poached eggs to the polenta, patting the bottom of the spoon with paper towels to dry the eggs. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the eggs and broil for 30 seconds, or until the cheese is bubbling. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve.