“Polenta and cheese cake”
I had seen this dish on a few cookery websites and in a number of my cookbooks and was intrigued by the name, which doesn’t sound particularly Romanian. I looked up the word in the Romanian dictionary (DEX) and its origins are unknown apparently, but it seems to be considered a Moldavian dish which is commonly made on the 29th June, St Peter’s day. It’s also the name of a type of traditional dance, but I don’t know if there is any connection there.
I saw two types of recipes for alivenci (singular: alinvanca). The more traditional cookbooks (Sanda Marin, Radu Anton Roman) made it more simple, neither very savoury nor sweet, and suggested serving it as a snack. Other culinary websites had you boiling the polenta with milk and adding sugar and lemon peel and so on, making it more of a sweet polenta cake dessert. I’ve stuck with the older recipes and haven’t included anything sweet, but you could tart it up with some sugar, vanilla essence, lemon juice/peel, and dust it with icing sugar before serving if you so wished.
1kg of fresh cow’s cheese (branza de vaci, or a mixture of branza de vaci and telemea)
250ml sour cream (smantana)
50g of melted butter + 25g unmelted for greasing the baking tray
1 teaspoons of salt (unless the cheese is already salty enough – especially if you’ve used telemea)
200g of cornmeal (malai – Romanian polenta mix)
150g of plain flour
100g fine breadcrumbs
1. Beat the cheese well until it is nice and creamy.
2. Separate the yolks from the whites and beat them (the yolks) into the cheese. Reserve the whites for later.
3. Pour in the sour cream, the butter, and the salt (if needed), and mix until you get a smooth paste-like texture. I ended up with some small lumps of telemea in the mix but these made nice little ‘nuggets’ of flavour in the end result.
4. Combine the cornmeal (polenta mix) with the flour and step by step add it to the cheese mixture . It’s important to keep mixing it continuously whilst adding the polenta/flour mix to avoid lumps and to get a good, well-combined dough. Continue to beat for a few more minutes.
5. Leave the dough to rest for ten minutes.
6. Beat the egg whites until you get hard peaks and fold these into the cheese mix.
7. Grease a large baking tray with the butter and sprinkle with the fine breadcrumbs all over.
8. Pour the mixture into the baking tray and bake in a medium oven (I guess mine was about 210C) until brown on top and firm inside (you can test it by sticking a wooden skewer into the centre and seeing if it comes out sticky). My batch took about an hour to cook.
9. When it is done, cut it into slices and serve warm with fresh sour cream.