When I was growing up, clothes shopping with my mom was purely functional. We had fun, of course, but we bought the necessities. There was pretty much no way she was going to fork over the money for anything with a designer label. Her reply when I begged for a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans was that she was simply not going to pay $30 for a pair of jeans, especially when they looked like they were “painted on.” (If we could only score a pair of designer jeans for 30 bucks today!😂)
Of course, “all” my 8th grade friends were sporting the gorgeous dark denim with the plain back pockets. Until then, all the pockets had a web of gold or white stitching running from one side to the other–think Jordache, Sassoon, Lee, and Wrangler. (Does this make anyone else think of random fashions of years gone by?)
And then, for my 13th birthday, it happened. I got the jeans. It was my one and only present, and I was ecstatic.
Back-to-school shopping trips remained focused on the basics, but it was around that time that my mom, sister, and I started making a fun day of the task. We’d drive an hour to King of Prussia where there were lots of stores that we didn’t have at our regular mall. And there was a bonus: we always stayed for dinner.
For many years, our go-to was a restaurant called Bertolini’s. The first time we ate there, I ordered a salad that included polenta croutons. I loved those croutons so much that I’m pretty sure I ordered that salad every single time we returned. Eventually, the menu changed, but as a special request, they’d still make the salad.
After the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, any designer purchase was to be made with my hard-earned babysitting money. That was a good lesson. Things mean a little more when you work for them yourself.
Bertolini’s eventually closed. If I wanted those tasty croutons, I had to figure that one out for myself, too!
A word of caution: sticky fingers tend to pluck these tasty morsels right off the baking sheet. That’s a-ok, unless you had thoughts of using them in a salad.
Think of these as a heartier, more savory option to a lightweight bread crouton. And stay tuned for one of our favorite ways to enjoy them.😉
- 16 ounces precooked polenta*
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and a few turns of the pepper mill
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the polenta log into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes. (To avoid wasting any of the polenta, I don’t square off the sides and ends to make perfect cubes. Instead, I cut into 3/4- to 1-inch thick round slices and then chop those into mostly uniform pieces. Some will inevitably be more triangular, and some will be squarer. That’s ok—just aim for mostly even thickness.)
Place the cubes in a large bowl, and gently toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, and toss again to evenly coat. Arrange the cubes on the prepared baking sheet so that they’re not touching, then bake for 25-30 minutes, turning once after about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden and crisp on the outside. (The croutons should still be tender on the inside as opposed to being crunchy throughout. This bit of chewiness is what makes them extra satisfying.)
- * Look for a plastic-wrapped tube or log (much like a fatter version of prepared cookie dough) in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Some stores have prepared polenta in the organic refrigerated section. Recently I did see it stored at room temperature, too. I have purchased 16-ounce packages and 24-ounce packages. If you find the larger size, you can prepare 1-1/2 times the recipe (for example, 1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, etc.) for a total of 6 servings instead of 4.
- If you have leftovers, cool and store in an airtight container. The crisp exterior of these croutons will fade. To “refresh” them, place the croutons in a 325 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. They’ll taste as good as new.