Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Polenta--Like potatoes for the Irish!

Polenta is the basic food of Friuli and indeed of most of northern Italy. It is made from ground corn which, in Friuli, is usually white, though in B.C. I use yellow cornmeal. My husband has learned to like it, but every now and then he finds a source for white cornmeal and we are in heaven.
I know that corn was introduced to Italy from America in relatively recent times, but I have read that the Roman legions, young, strong men, kept their hunger pains at bay on a diet of boiled mixed grains called "Pulmentum". Hence, Polenta.
It is similar to that southern American staple, Grits, if that gives you a better idea of what polenta looks like.
Polenta is a porridge-like food which is made in the following manner:
Put 3 cups of water into a pot, salt it well, and bring it to the boil.
When it's boiling, slowly pour in 1 cup of cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring at the same time.
Boil or simmer it gently until it has reached a porridge-like consistency. This doesn't make much, so if this is other than your first trial run, double or triple this for a meal.
Now you have two options.
ONE: This may be served as the base for something you've cooked that has a saucy consistency, such as a stew, or chicken or seafood in a sauce. I'll be giving you some recipes for these dishes "in sugo", in a sauce, later. So serve the hot polenta in a bowl with a spoon, and each person will place a puddle of it on the dinner plate and then top it with a scoop of the main dish (ie Nonna's Pork Stew).
TWO: You may choose to pour the hot polenta into a dish, such as a lasagna pan or a casserole dish so that it is the same depth all over, and let it cool. It will set nicely. Then cut it into rectangles or squares and after placing as many pieces on a rack as you need for the meal at hand, roast it in a hot oven until it gets a golden crust all over. Then pile these delectable pieces of polenta (watch it, they're hot!)on a serving platter, to be eaten with whatever main dish (in sugo) you have prepared. Italians will also want a plate of pieces of cheese to eat with it, a nice white cheese such as Friulano or Asiago or Fontina. (Polenta is also delectable with soft cheeses.) And they will likely want some warmed up for breakfast.
Now. Sit down.

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