Polenta is a thick, wettish dough that provides a starchy base for a meal in exactly the same way as rice, bread or potatoes. In this recipe it is made with potatoes, though usually it would be just cornmeal and water.
The local white potatoes of Trentino are famous throughout Italy for their excellent flavour and quality. In this recipe they are combined with polenta flour and mashed to smooth texture, using a local tool called a trisa, which is very similar to a classic Irish potato masher. (An ordinary potato masher and heavy duty wooden spoon will be quite suitable for the job.)
The traditional accompaniments are cold boiled beans dressed with a very sharp vinaigrette, bowls of very vinegary pickles and sometimes sliced raw onion. It is really very delicious, and filling. Any leftovers taste even better the second time around, toasted under the grill until slightly blackened and crispy.
Boil the potatoes until soft, then drain and place them in a large pan (preferably copper, but this is not essential) over a very low heat. Begin to mash and stir them with a sturdy potato masher. Add salt and pepper and then trickle in the polenta flour like a soft rainfall, mixing and mashing all the time. After approximately 20 minutes, the polenta should start to come away from the sides of the pan.
Melt the butter and oil together, and fry the onion and pancetta or bacon until they are well browned and almost crispy.
When the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan effortlessly as you mix, stir in the cubed cheese and the sizzling hot, fried ingredients. Mix vigorously to combine all the flavours and textures, then tip the mixture out on to a board - it will have the texture of very stiff mashed potato. Shape it into a cake using a spatula, and serve it in thick slices with sharp pickles and bean salads as described above.
© 1990 Valentina Harris. All rights reserved.