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GOOD COOKING

A Round of Polenta

May 28, 1997|ABBY MANDEL | Mandel's latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996)

Sunday noon is a perfect time for entertaining, and these Italian-inspired recipes enable you to do everything--except toss the salad at the last minute--in advance. Serve the dishes buffet style or at the table.

Polenta rounds flavored with dill and green onions are spread with a caper, cucumber and sour cream mixture, then blanketed with thinly sliced smoked salmon. Paired with the rounds is an orange-infused fennel and arugula salad, a combination that works magic.

Start the meal with fruit and conclude with a steaming cup of cappuccino and a plain crumb coffee cake or pound cake and biscotti.

SMOKED SALMON POLENTA ROUNDS

TOPPING

6 tablespoons light sour cream

1 teaspoon horseradish

2 teaspoons drained capers

POLENTA

1 1/2 teaspoons oil

3 green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan

ASSEMBLY

6 tablespoons finely diced, peeled, seeded cucumber

1/2 pound thinly sliced lightly smoked salmon

Dill sprigs

TOPPING

Combine sour cream, horseradish and capers in small bowl and chill. (Note: This can be done 1 day ahead.)

POLENTA

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and dill and heat through, about 20 seconds. Add broth and salt and bring to boil. Slowly whisk in cornmeal over medium heat. (Note: Adding cornmeal should take about 2 1/2 minutes.) Cook 4 minutes, stirring constantly, then stir in cheese, pepper to taste and butter.

Pour into greased 13x9-inch pan and spread until polenta is 1/4-inch thick. (Note: Polenta will not cover entire pan.) Put piece of plastic wrap on polenta and smooth surface with your hands. (Note: Polenta can be made 1 day ahead to this point and refrigerated, tightly covered. Let come to room temperature before using.) Use 4-inch round cookie cutter or bowl to make 6 rounds.

ASSEMBLY

Transfer rounds to platter or individual plates.

Stir cucumber into Topping and spread rounded tablespoon of Topping on each round. Top with salmon slices, overlapping to cover polenta. Garnish with dill sprigs.

Polenta rounds can be assembled 1 hour ahead and kept at room temperature.

6 servings. Each serving:

163 calories; 656 mg sodium; 14 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.21 gram fiber.

ARUGULA AND FENNEL SALAD

Because arugula can be quite dominant, I like to use half arugula and half mixed greens in this salad. Even so, be sure to find young, small arugula leaves which are less bitter than the large ones.

VINAIGRETTE

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

SALAD

6 cups arugula leaves, chilled and crisped

6 cups mixed baby greens, chilled and crisped

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise

Parmesan cheese

6 slices small navel orange

VINAIGRETTE

Combine garlic, orange peel and juice, oil, mustard, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste in small jar. Cover and shake well. (Note: Vinaigrette may be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before using.)

SALAD

Toss arugula, greens and fennel in large bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Using sharp, swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, shave off 12 sheets Parmesan. Set aside.

Toss greens with Vinaigrette and arrange on chilled platter. Top with Parmesan shavings. Garnish with orange slices and serve immediately.

6 servings. Each serving:

127 calories; 176 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.

* Cyclamen plate, napkin and glass from Windows, Pasadena.

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