The back story: Polenta e schie, a specialty of Venice, Italy, is polenta topped with tiny local shrimp called schie. The dish typically is a minimalist, sauce-free marriage of corn and crustacean, but Michela Tasca, owner of Ca’ de Memi farm and bed and breakfast in Piombino Dese, just north of Venice, taught Milk Street a version in which the schie are poached in a simple tomato sauce accented with garlic and fresh herbs.
So in this recipe, Milk Street uses the large shrimp available in the U.S. in place of the schie. The polenta is simmered in the oven; the gentle, even heat obviates the need for frequent stirring. This means that while the polenta cooks, you’re free to prep the other ingredients. While this method for making polenta may take longer, it sure is a heck of a lot easier than standing over a hot stove stirring constantly for nearly an hour… Works for me!
TIPS: Be sure to use coarse stoneground cornmeal; fine cornmeal produces gluey polenta, and steel-ground cornmeal lacks flavor. If juicy, ripe tomatoes are not available, look for cocktail or Campari tomatoes, as we find them to be dependably good no matter the season.
Milk Street warns not to begin cooking the shrimp until the polenta is done. In the covered pan or pot, the polenta will remain hot for the short amount of time it takes to cook the shrimp and tomatoes. Don’t worry if the shrimp are only parcooked after their quick sear. They’ll finish cooking when they simmer with the tomatoes for a couple of minutes.
Polenta with Shrimp and Tomatoes
- 1 cup coarse stoneground yellow cornmeal
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1½ lbs. extra-large shrimp, peeled (tails removed) and deveined
- 4 large garlic cloves, 2 finely grated, 2 smashed and peeled, reserved separately
- 1½ lbs. ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the lower-middle position.
- In a large oven-safe saucepan or small (4- to 5-quart) Dutch oven, combine the cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt and 5½ cups water, then whisk to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium, stirring often, then place uncovered in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, whisk the polenta, then return, still uncovered, to the oven. Cook until the polenta is thick and creamy, another 15 to 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, whisk until smooth, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, then cover and set aside while you cook the shrimp.
- In a medium bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of oil, the grated garlic and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat.
- In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer and cook until browned on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate. Cook the remaining shrimp in the same way using the residual oil in the pan.
- Set the now-empty skillet over medium, add the smashed garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften and release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the shrimp with accumulated juices and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Off heat, remove and discard the garlic cloves and stir in the basil, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Whisk the polenta to smooth it out, adding water as needed to thin. Divide the polenta among individual bowls, then spoon on the shrimp-tomato mixture.
Adapted by Rose Hattabaugh for Milk Street