NOTES: Chef Ben de Vries, formerly of Andalu in San Francisco, uses a scalloped cookie cutter to make polenta fries in frilly crescent-moon shapes; we've cut the polenta into batons for ease and to avoid waste. Instead of deep-frying, you can oven-fry the polenta: Prepare the recipe through step 2. Pour enough oil into a 10- by 15-inch nonstick baking pan to coat well (use two pans for thin-cut fries); roll strips in oil to coat, then spread them out in pan. Bake in a 450° oven, turning fries occasionally, until crisp and browned, 35 to 45 minutes. Continue with step 4.
Sunset NOVEMBER 2004
1. Stir cheese into hot basic polenta. Add salt and pepper to taste. Scrape mixture into a buttered 8-inch square baking pan and, with a spatula that has been dipped in water, spread level, 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Chill until very firm, at least 1 1/2 hours and up to 1 day.
2. Run a knife around edges of pan to loosen polenta, invert onto a board, and lift off pan. Trim off any rounded edges from polenta (save trimmings for another use). Cut polenta in half to form two equal rectangles (wipe knife with a wet paper towel as needed to prevent sticking), then cut each half into strips 1/2 inch wide and 3 to 4 inches long to produce thick fries (or cut strips in half through wider side to produce thin, square-cut fries). Trim away uneven edges. Spread about 1/2 cup flour on a rimmed plate and roll each polenta strip lightly in flour.
3. Pour 3 inches oil into a deep-fryer set at 375° (or medium-high) or a deep, heavy, 3- to 4-quart pan over medium-high heat. When oil reaches 375°, working in batches, lower polenta strips into oil in a deep-fry basket or a few at a time with a slotted spoon; fry until crisp and golden, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove with basket or slotted spoon. Drain briefly on paper towels, then transfer, in a single layer, to baking pans and keep warm in a 200° oven.
4. Sprinkle fries with salt and serve with spicy tomato dipping sauce.
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