Friday, March 18, 2005



Thank you, Great White Bear, for rousing me from my stupor. I have been hibernating for the past month, not because of any ursine genes floating around in my DNA, but because this time of year is better spent in a semi-comatose state. I am grateful to you, GWB, for rousing me out of my ennui and getting me working again.

And now onto polenta and its glorious variations:

The Italian version of cornmeal mush, polenta is made with coarsely ground yellow cornmeal, cooked with stock or water and flavored with onions, garlic, and cheese. Polenta may be eaten fresh out of the pot, as a perfect accompaniment to stews, or it may also be poured into a greased pan and allowed to set. It is then sliced, sautéed, and topped with cheese or tomato sauce.

Here is a very simple and basic recipe:

Stir 1 and 1/2 cups polenta (course cornmeal, you can use Quaker cornmeal, but cornmeal bought in a natural food store is better.)
and 1/2 teaspoon salt
in to 5 1/2 to 6 cups of cold water.

In a large pasta pan, bring 1/2 of the water and salt to a boil. Meanwhile, briskly stir the cornmeal into the remaining water and gently pour the cornmeal water (actually stream it) into the boiling water, stirring constantly. This method will help you produce a lump-free polenta. Turn down heat and gently boil the polenta and continue to stir. It will be cooked after ten minutes of stirring, but you may continue to cook longer if you prefer a dryer polenta. Ten minutes will do it, though. It should have the consistency of wet mashed potatoes.

Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in butter (half a stick, 4 tablespoons, or to your taste) and some freshly grated parmeasan cheese (or goat cheese, or Romano cheese, or feta cheese, but never, NEVER, processed dead cheese). Serve immediately with your favorite meat, or cover and hold until serving time. It will harden as it cools. If you like a soft polenta, serve immediately.

Another method: Take the buttered and cheesed polenta and spread on a clean, dry surface (counter top or inside a 9x13 inch glass baking dish, and let cool. The polenta can then be cut into squares and served with a topping of fresh tomatoe sauce, salsa or anything you can think of. Polenta is like pasta, it enhances whatever food you put with it. Here's what I do.

Before I cook the polenta, I take a variety of veggies (swiss chard, shitake mushrooms, red peppers, plum tomatoes and onions and garlic) and saute them in olive oil until just tender. (You may go wild and add pinenuts and white raisins or currents, too. And if you want a Sicilian or Middle Eastern taste, add a pinch of cinnamon to the veggies.) Season to taste.

I scrape the soft polenta out of the pan and place it in a mound on a large platter. I make a large hole in the center, pushing the polenta up the sides so it looks like a gigantic doughnut. I then fill the hole with the sauted veggies, pinenuts, and raisins.) Then I mince a variety of herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro, basil, tarragon) and garnish the whole plate. It is absolutely beautiful and out of this world delicious.

Economical too. Cornmeal is cheap, and if you go to a greengrocer, (or better, grow your own) the veggies and herbs are inexpensive.

You may also garnish with toasted sesame seeds. I even add garbanzo beans to the mix sometimes.

Your friends will love this and so will you. More later on other ways of using polenta.

I'm exhausted from all this posting. Heavens. What next? Will Great White Bear expect me to go out and actually earn a living?????

Ciao amici!

I love polenta sliced, fried in clarified butter weith a little saute'd onion topped with parmesan! An excellent post choice!
glad to see you're back. Good stuff. I'm making polenta tomorrow.
What a wonderfully uncomplicated version! I made polenta this morning and it is cooling for my sleeping family. The streaming produced the smoothness I was looking for. Thank you
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