I’ve had my fair share of amazing pizzas. From Brooklyn’s famed Grimaldi’s, to Naples’ legendary Pizzeria da Michele, and everything in between, I have found that my go-to guilty pleasure is, and forever will be, a perfectly mastered pizza. What intrigues me the most about pizza is how it can easily be adapted into a range of other food forms, such as salads, pastas, or sandwiches, while maintaining its wholesome integrity. It is so simple to take the toppings from a favorite pizza and transform them into a new and innovative dish. Liberty Tavern in the DC area, for example, serves a fantastic pizza called The Vermont loaded with white cheddar, caramelized onions, roasted apples, prosciutto, and sage. After my first bite of this pizza, visions of how I could recreate it in the form of a gourmet grilled cheese or risotto danced in my head.
The last time I went to Liberty Tavern, I had my leftover Vermont wrapped in a doggy bag so that I could enjoy it for lunch the following day. My plan changed, however, as I witnessed a homeless man standing outside the restaurant with his hand extended for offerings. I debated whether I should fork over a few dollars or my cherished leftovers. I decided on the latter, and as I handed him the pizza, I told him that he was surely in for a treat. He looked at me with a blank stare, grabbed the pizza box, and hastily threw it on the curb next him without a sign of gratitude. I couldn’t believe it. Knowing just how delicious it was, I argued with myself whether it would be acceptable to reclaim my beloved pizza from the ungrateful man. Begrudgingly, I turned my back and walked away.
It is my hope that the man outside Liberty Tavern was able to enjoy a decent meal that night; however, I think about the fate of my unappreciated pizza quite often. In order to seek some closure, I decided to recreate The Vermont in the form of a creamy polenta. The pizza’s caramelized onions, apples, and prosciutto make the perfect topping to serve over white cheddar polenta. With The Vermont blissfully reincarnated in this dish, I can once again appreciate its complex toppings and flavor combinations – this time, however, there will be no leftovers!
White Cheddar Polenta with Caramelized Onions, Apples, and Prosciutto
½ cup medium grind cornmeal
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup grated white cheddar cheese
2 slices prosciutto, diced
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup white wine
Salt and pepper
Garnish with sage or parsley
Bring stock to a boil, pour in cornmeal, and whisk constantly for 4 minutes to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to whisk. Partially cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for about 40 minutes. Whisk every 10 minutes to make sure that the polenta is not sticking. Add more stock if necessary. Once polenta is thick and creamy, remove from heat and stir in the white cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper according to your liking.
While the polenta is cooking, sauté diced prosciutto in a pan coated with olive oil over medium heat. Once crispy, remove the prosciutto and drain on a paper towel.
Add more olive oil to the same pan. Over medium heat, sauté the onions and apples for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and a dash of sugar to help with the caramelization. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add more oil if necessary. Once the onions and apples have fully caramelized, stir in Dijon mustard, and raise the heat to high. Deglaze the pan with white wine, scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the liquid evaporates.
To assemble, pour polenta on a plate and top with caramelized onions and apples. Sprinkle crisped prosciutto over the top and enjoy!