Gluten-free glory: this recipe uses coeliac-safe polenta /

Sandwiches are often avoided like the plague by those with coeliac disease, but this cornbread recipe makes for an exciting and safe alternative to bread

For someone with coeliac disease, eating even a few bread crumbs can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Gluten – the protein found in wheat, barley and rye – triggers a response in their bodies, causing it to attack itself. It’s estimated that one in 100 people have coeliac disease in the UK but close to a quarter don’t even know they have it.

Coeliac disease isn’t a food intolerance or allergy – it’s an autoimmune disease that can cause severe long term health problems. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure; the only treatment is to eliminate gluten from the diet. 

The good news is that the list of naturally gluten-free foods is long and includes fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry, fish and seafood, dairy and nuts. The problem for someone with coeliac disease is that gluten is often hidden in processed foods, such as soups and sauces, where it’s used as a thickener. Buying food in bulk needs to be avoided too, due to the risk of cross contamination and dining out can be a minefield. 

There are many grains and starchy foods, such as rice, corn, quinoa, and soy, that can be included in the diet. This cornbread is gluten free and uses polenta, which is easier to find in the UK than the cornmeal that is traditionally used. The best news? Its hearty and crunchy and a gluten-free way to get a sandwich hit. The recipe is based on one by Edna Lewis, the wonderful Southern food writer. It makes enough for nine squares of cornbread. Use some for sandwiches and the rest is great toasted for breakfast or to use for croutons.

Open-faced cornbread sandwiches with honey, pecan and goats’ cheese spread

For the cornbread

360g fine polenta
½tsp salt
½tsp baking soda
2tsp baking powder
3 eggs, beaten
​450ml liquid (the juice of half a lemon + milk)
15g unsalted butter

For the goats’ cheese spread

125g soft goats’ cheese
25g chopped pecans
1tsp runny honey

Preheat oven to 200C. To make the cornbread, place the fine polenta in a medium sized mixing bowl. Sift the salt, baking soda and baking powder into the same bowl. Add in the eggs and liquid and stir to combine.

Put the butter in a 20cm square, non-stick baking tin. Place it in the hot oven to melt the butter and heat up the pan. When melted, remove from the oven and swirl the butter around to coat the bottom and sides. Pour in the cornbread batter and place in the hot oven. Bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean – about 15-20 minutes.

To make the goats’ cheese spread, combine the cheese, pecans and honey in a small bowl.

When the cornbread is done, remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing. Slice the cornbread into nine squares. Slice a square in half and spread with some of the goats’ cheese. Finish off with your choice of toppings, such as roasted aubergine slices, semi-dried tomatoes and prosciutto.

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