Polenta

Polenta consists of corn flour, water, and a well-lubricated elbow. The flour becomes polenta when, with constant stirring, it absorbs all the water and turns into a homogeneous, soft, yet compact mass that wipes cleanly away from the side of the pot.

In The Classic Italian Cook Book I gave a recipe for polenta with a high proportion of flour to water that required half the conventional time to stir. Although it has always worked well at home, I have found that some who have tried it for the first time have had difficulty in achieving a satisfactory consistency. I have therefore reduced the quantity of flour while increasing the water and the cooking time. Following this method I have seen students, although they grumble about all the stirring, turn out good polenta on their first attempt. It is vital to stir the flour and water uninterruptedly until it masses and not to let it cook faster than at a simmer.

HOW TO SERVE: Polenta can be used when just made, or it can be allowed to cool completely, then sliced and grilled or fried. Fresh polenta—warm, soft, and slightly quivering—is wonderful with meat stews and other casserole dishes, particularly when there are enough cooking juices for the polenta to absorb. Fricassees of birds—either game or domestic—pork ribs, or sausages with tomatoes are ideally matched with freshly made polenta.

When cold, polenta is firm and can be sliced like bread. The slices can be run quickly under a broiler or, even better, toasted on a charcoal grill. They are delicious just as they are, or as an accompaniment for sautéed liver, sfogi in saor, or with a roast bird or rabbit. In Venice, grilled polenta is always found with cuttlefish stewed in its ink and with any fried fish. Try spreading Gorgonzola or goat cheese on grilled polenta when still hot.

Sliced cold polenta can also be fried in vegetable oil and served very crisp in the same manner suggested for grilled polenta. When frying it, allow a transparent but not colored crust to form on both sides of the slices.

Also see the lasagne-like Baked Polenta with Meat Sauce in The Classic Italian Cook Book, page 208.

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Ingredients

  • 7 cups water
  • Salt
  • 1⅔ cups (7 ounces) coarse-ground cornmeal

Method

  1. Put the water in a broad, heavy-bottomed pot and bring it to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add the salt, then add the polenta flour in a thin trickle, letting it stream through the fingers of one hand and, with the other hand, beating it into the water with a whisk.
  3. When you have put in all the polenta flour, lower the heat to medium and begin to stir with a long wooden spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, for 40 minutes, or until the polenta comes easily away from the sides of the pot.
  4. Moisten the inside of a large bowl with water and turn the polenta into the bowl. Let rest for about 5 minutes, then turn the polenta upside down, out of the bowl, onto a wood board or a large, flat platter. See the introductory note above for serving suggestions.

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