Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Polenta Rounds with Spinach Pesto and Garlic Shrimp

If you watched me while I was throwing a dinner party, you might get confused. You'd see me in the kitchen, back facing away from the crowd, while everyone else sat, drank and socialized.

You'd see me hold conversations that started these ways.

Can you dice up those onions?

Can you squeeze those last 10 lemons I didn't have time to squeeze for lemonade?

Can you slice that baguette, brush it with a bit of olive oil, run a clove of garlic across the top of each slice and then bake it for 5 or 6 minutes? Then can you take the bread off the baking sheet and put it on that cute white dish over there? Thanks.

You might get confused by my inability to hold an in-depth conversation, distracted by timers going off and pots boiling over on the stove. You'd wonder why I invited people over in the first place.

It's not that I want to be anti-social at my dinner parties. It's just that I need to have more realistic dinner party expectations. I can't, realistically, set out to make a homemade appetizer, entree, side dish and overly elaborate dessert on a weeknight.

I can't.

Please remind me of that the next time I try.

This appetizer is nowhere near as simple as the chickpea spread I gave you earlier this week. That was a less-than-five-minute, make way ahead dish.

These polenta rounds requires a bit more work, depending on how you do them. There's the much faster way to prepare them with store-bought pesto and store-bought tubed polenta.

Then there's the way I did it, which requires you to have some time the day before to make your own pesto, cook your own polenta and cut your own polenta rounds. Or if you just HAVE to make them the day of, adjust the rest of your menu accordingly.

You'll be happy whatever way you do it.

These little polenta rounds just look beautiful on the plate, and they're hard to resist. A seared polenta round forms the base. It's topped with a generous spread of spinach pesto, a single garlic shrimp, and some cherry tomato rounds.

It's a two or three bite appetizer, which is good because these fly off the plate.

PS. Blogger wants me to correct the spelling on polenta to tadpole. Really?

Polenta Rounds with Spinach Pesto and Garlic Shrimp
recipe adapted from Taste for Adventure

This single-batch yields 10 rounds, but you'll have extra polenta. You could use the extra polenta in a different application or double the pesto and shrimp quantities!

General Ingredients:
1 batch of your favorite polenta (Prepare the polenta in advance, and then pour it onto greased baking sheets to cool. Cut out rounds of polenta using a 1 1/2 to 2-inch greased cookie cutter. Set the polenta rounds aside) OR a tube of pre-prepared polenta from the store
10 shrimp, peeled and deveined  
1 clove garlic, minced
10 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 chives, cut into small pieces, to garnish the tops of the rounds

Pesto ingredients: 
 2 cups spinach leaves, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds of fresh pepper

Prepare the pesto: Toast the pine nuts in a small saucepan over low heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly until golden brown. Combine all the pesto ingredients in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until smooth. Set aside. This can be made a day in advance.

The day of, pull the pesto out of the fridge to come to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 

Saute the polenta rounds: In a medium saucepan drizzled with olive oil, saute the polenta rounds over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side. They will get a nice sear. Remove the rounds from the pan. Place the rounds in a warmed oven.

While the polenta rounds saute: Season the shrimp with salt, pepper and minced garlic. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and continue heating until hot. Add the garlic-covered shrimp and saute until pink, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Assemble the rounds: Place a cooked polenta round on a plate. Top generously with pesto. Add one shrimp, wrapping the shrimp around the curve of the polenta round. Garnish with three tomato slices and a bit of chive. Serve warm!


  1. I'm always a bit overzealous also when it comes to planning dinner parties. Or even when I'm just going home to visit my family! There's always so much rushing around at the last minute. I love the way these polenta rounds turned out though! Delicious.

    1. Thanks, Joanne! It's hard not to want to make all those favorites for people (and I'm sure we secretly love the rushing around a bit, too!).

  2. These are gorgeous, Katie! I absolutely adore polenta and wish I could get my husband to like it as much. (He would probably prefer the tadpole.) Know that you are not alone in occasional unrealistic expectations for dinner parties. I don't know why I always insist on object lessons versus taking advice!

    1. Thank you! I loved that tadpole comment, by the way! I think the dinner party thing is hard to get out of, though I'm going to try to through more realistic goals!

  3. Ughhh I hate that, not being able to sit down and enjoy having people over because you're the one working on feeding them. I think it's the foodie's curse. These little polenta rounds look really yummy though!

    1. True! I want an excuse to make all the fancy things I've been staring at for months!!