Oh polenta! An Italian legendary dish that arrived with the discovery of America—along with the tomatoes for our pizza (should we remind that to the ones that complain against globalization?).
Polenta saved many from famine especially in the North of Italy (just like potatoes in the rest of Europe and Russia). Like Pasta, Risotto, and Pizza, polenta is now a great exponent of Italian cuisine.
Getting to know you
Polenta is corn flour, usually yellow but there is also a rare white variety used especially in Veneto. In the US, I used to first buy it at the Spanish Bodegas, there was a variety called Harina de Mais Fina, it was the best. But I believe that Whole Foods and other famous supermarkets are carrying the product too now, including the pre-cooked, or precocida varieties, and even the white one.
How to make polenta
The proportions are easy to remember: it takes 5 times the volume of water relative to the weight of the polenta. Ex. 200 g of polenta and 1 lt of water (7.50 ounces and 4 cups of water). Although I always abound with water in respect to what is suggested on the box, because I like my polenta soft and creamy.
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan and salt it (about 2 teaspoons). When it is boiling, add the polenta like rain and mix vigorously with a whisk to prevent clumping (and while mixing regularly, trying not to have hot splashes of polenta on your hand 😟). Cook for at least 40 minutes or even 50 minutes, if the polenta is not precooked and a few minutes if it is (about 10). In order to adapt the consistency, always keep a little more water, or milk, to add while cooking.
I’ll make one point here. I read many recipes that call for half milk – half water. Fine, I can live with that. But there are some that call for broth (vegetable or meat). That is a no-no. I personally won’t even eat it! And, HORROR! Half milk and half broth. No, no, no.
Polenta is made with water, and that is that! It fills you up stuffed because it takes a lot of room in your stomach, but it is easy to digest. No need for extra calories. There won’t be any advantages on the taste either.
Precooked or Traditional?
I buy always the traditional, but I hereby confess that I have one of those Kenwood cooker, which does the job for me. I also find that the taste is subtly better, but when I used the precooked one I found that there isn’t that big of a difference. So it is up to you.
How to serve it
Polenta by itself means nothing. It is what goes with it, that makes a difference. Also polenta is good served immediately, creamy and piping hot; or from the day before, cut in slices and then grilled. Among the many ways to serve it we have:
- Polenta Concia and/or Taragna. Two similar ways to making it, by adding in both cases cheese and butter.
- Polenta with mushrooms
- Polenta four cheeses. This story of three or four cheeses is very Italian, a way to accommodate leftovers. Besides, in the Italian tradition we cook a lot more cheese than we serve alone.
- Polenta with calamari and tomato sauce
- Creamy polenta with grilled squid and pesto sauce. This one I copied from a famous Washington DC restaurant that eventually closed. So I had to learn it.
Grilled can go with all of the above too, but is usually grilled with sausages and ribs.
I’m sure that I forgot many other ways to serve polenta, but stay tuned, they will come.