Polenta is a wonderful grain dish to become familiar with because it is so quick to make, and it goes well with most vegetables and sauces. This is a sumptuous appetizer that is richly varied in texture, with a crispy coating on the outside, light and moist polenta within, and a creamy center of melted cheese.

MAKES 12 BALLS (4 TO 6 SERVINGS)

1ВЅ cups water

ВЅ cup cornmeal

1 egg, beaten

ВЅ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Вј cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour

Вј teaspoon salt

3 ounces semisoft cheese (such as Italian Fontina, Muenster, or Monterey Jack)

Вѕ cup Bread Crumbs

Oil for frying

  1. To make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, then very slowly add the cornmeal, beating constantly with a wire whisk. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the polenta tears away from the sides of the pan, about 10 minutes. Pour onto a plate and chill until cold, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Put the polenta in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add the egg, Parmesan cheese, flour, and salt, and mix well. May be prepared to this point up to 24 hours in advance, covered, and chilled.
  3. Cut the cheese into 12 cubes, about ВЅ-inch each. Form the polenta mixture into balls about 1ВЅ inches in diameter and insert a cube of cheese into the center, making sure to cover the cheese completely. This will be messy but manageable. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat completely. You can let them sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes before cooking.
  4. Pour enough oil into a medium saucepan to reach a depth of 2 inches and heat until it is very hot but not smoking. (The best way to test if the oil is hot enough is to drop in a bread crumb; it should immediately rise to the top.) Fry 4 or 5 balls at a time, turning occasionally to brown all over. It should take about 3 to 4 minutes to brown them. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.