Polenta squares with dates, goat cheese, pickled onions

Polenta squares: dates, goat's cheese, pickled onions from Dinners for Winners

Last Friday, THE SUN CAME OUT! It gave me spring fever so bad, I just wanted to leave work and start the weekend — to get out of the stuffy office air and into Spring. I had burgers to grill for our friends that night! I left for my noon gym class and instead of a shower and returning to the office afterwards, turned my sweaty self towards home. It felt amazing; the sunshine through the windshield, new Foster the People playing super loud, full-on spring-break 65 degrees.

But traffic was terrible; it took me 45 minutes to get home. And I was becoming famished. I stopped for a quick drive-through lunch to bring home for us, and reached for my wallet in my handbag. MY WALLET WASN’T THERE, ya’ll. Ahk!

My mind raced to the last time I had seen it, but I couldn’t remember. I parked, got out and searched under the seats, in the glove compartment, looked through my handbag again, checked my gym bag, looked through my reusable shopping bags: nothing. I called Nathan and had him look around the house. Nothing. I called the office and had them search my desk. Nothing. Where was it?!

I drove the rest of the way home, now exasperated, worried, and blood-sugar levels quickly crashing. I checked my account online to see if anyone was spending our $$$, but all looked well…….

I could only remember using it at Fred Meyer the night before, getting supplies for dinner-party prep. My husband phoned Freddies.

Polenta squares: dates, goat's cheese, pickled onions from Dinners for Winners

They had my wallet! In debating a buy-one-get-one deal with the checker, I’d left it there at the register. Oh, me.

Nathan went to pick it up (and procured lunch for us, thanks babe), and everything was still in my wallet! Even some cash. Major points for Fred Meyer!

I was so relieved and grateful. Just what everyone hopes will happen if one’s wallet goes missing — that it will turn up, in one piece, everything still in it. One hour from discovering it was lost to finding it again…. HURRAY! On with the weekend! (Cash in hand, identification in hand = beer-thirty, amiright?)

A beer was well-deserved after my short-lived wallet panic, and I always want snacks when I drink beer. I just can’t help it; pretzels, peanuts, spicy tots are made for beer buddies. But these little polenta bites are legit happy-hour food, pretty enough for a dinner-party table and simple enough for a sunny Friday afternoon, off early from work. With polenta made ahead of time, kept it wrapped in the fridge, these little bites are just minutes to being ready!

Polenta squares with dates, goat cheese, and pickled onions from Dinners for Winners

The pickled onions themselves are great on everything, as have been explored just recently on the www, I love to keep a jar in the fridge, and pairing them with dates was inspired by one of my all-time favorite things to eat, a spinach salad from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. It’s wonderful that a little of the pungent, briney-paired-with-sweet flavors find their way here. (Seriously, yes, the pickled onions are that neon shade of pink.) Smooth goat’s cheese and a sprinkle of cilantro tingle my nose as I’m about to bite into one of these little noshes. I love ‘em! Happy weekend!

Polenta squares with dates, goat cheese, pickled onions from Dinners for Winners

Crisp polenta squares with dates, goat cheese, pickled onions

You’ll need:

  • cooked, cooled polenta (method below) or a purchased log of polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 – 4 pitted Medjool dates, each sliced lengthwise into 4 – 6 spears
  • a few slices of pickled red onion (method below)
  • 3 or so ounces goat’s cheese, room temperature
  • cilantro leaves

Cut the polenta into 2-inch squares, or, if using purchased polenta, slice off rounds 1/2-inch thick. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Let the squares or rounds brown on each side, 8 – 10 minutes per side — don’t be tempted to move them except for one flip, they are delicate. Carefully transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain before topping with a schmear of cheese, two or three spears of date, a twist or two of pickled onion and a cilantro leaf. Cheers!

Pickled onions

  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 red onion

Place first three ingredients in a non-reactive container and shake or stir to combine. Add onion slices and enough water to cover onions; shake again. I like to use a small canning jar for these onions, and to keep the lid/ring from rusting, a layer of plastic film before I tighten the lid certainly helps. Chill for 30 minutes or up to several days.

Small-batch polenta

  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground polenta cornmeal
  • coarse salt
  • 2 cups water

Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan, and gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. Lower heat and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally, 20 – 30 minutes. You can cook this longer if you like, as the flavor mellows and sweetens with time on the heat, giving the grains a softer bite, which I like. Season with salt to taste. Pour into a 9 x 9 dish and allow to cool, uncovered. Once cool, polenta should release from its pan easily, inverted onto a plate (carefully, to prevent breaking), and can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Alternatively, pour off a bit of your next batch of polenta if you’re making some for dinner and enjoy these date-onion bites later in the week.

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19 thoughts on “Polenta squares with dates, goat cheese, pickled onions

  1. Thank goodness you found your wallet, lucky you. Love these appetizers.

  2. ali says:

    looks so good, sophie! Love that you provide a recipe for a small batch of polenta — every time I make polenta, we have enough to feed the neighborhood :)

  3. These look amazing Sophie! I am borderline obsessed with polenta and love seeing different serving ideas. Have a great weekend!

  4. Suzanne Reingans says:

    wow, love your bright photos!

    After eating at Ad Hoc in Yountville, I decided that while it was tasty food, Sophie’s chef abilities might give Thomas Keller a run for his money

  5. Sophie33 says:

    I have nearly the same recipe in a book of mine with great appetiziers! I love them so I will love your tasty recipe too! A very colourful feast for the eyes & mouth, of course! :) x

  6. Sandi says:

    So glad you found your wallet! I’ve been in that situation…more times than I care to admit (aging, argh!). I’m definitely going to try this — I love polenta, I love squares, and I love dates! Yum.

  7. Trisha says:

    you have totally won me over with this. Polenta has been something I have been slowly obsessing over during the past year. this is a new way of doing it. ON IT! x

  8. So many of my favorite things going on here – polenta, dates, goat cheese…and those onions!! YUM!!

  9. oh, these looks so good…a little sweet, a little salty, a little creamy…yum!!! one of these days I am going to have jar(s) of pickled things in the fridge…one of these days :-) And thank God you found your wallet!!! I can’t even imagine how awful it was! I’ve left my wallet at work and at home a few times, but at least I knew where it was.

    • Oh, thank you! Yes — I did lose my wallet once in Bakersfield while visiting, and when I went back to where I’d left it, it had been stolen — and the thieves started spending right away with my debit card. The bank took care of that, but it was difficult indeed to get back on the plane without my identification!

      Pickled goodies are sooo wonderful! Even if something is just pickled for 20 minutes or so…. it can change things up wonderfully from the norm. Go for it!

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