Pantry Must-Have: Polenta

I’m a little obsessed with Polenta this week. Can you blame me? Every time I have it, I’m reminded how it’s the ultimate Italian Comfort Food. How easy it is to doctor it up, how an inexpensive ingredient can create a satisfying, hearty, delectable meal. Plus, you know, if you keep a pantry, you can always have it on hand!

After recently enjoying and sharing on Facebook a magnificent Polenta Concia, I realized, I’m not the only one obsessed! My Facebook Friends professed their love and their own Polenta Comfort Food Stories. 

Polenta Concia with 10 Herbs
Polenta Concia with 10 Herbs
So I decided to get down to the business of sharing and blog about this Italian Comfort Food Staple.

While I promised friends back home a recipe, I’ve decided to do ’em one better. I’m taking the Jamie Oliver route and sharing multiple ways to turn a single ingredient into multiple amazing meals.

The Basics, What is Polenta?

In case you’re not familiar, Polenta is not Cornmeal. Well not exactly, think Curry. Polenta is a style of cooking, a dish, not just an ingredient. Polenta the dish, is made with coarsely ground Cornmeal and more traditionally in Northern Italy, Chestnuts. Cornmeal specifically ground in size, from Corn types originally grown in Italy and labeled Polenta, make the best dishes.

Magic Potential Of Polenta
Magic Potential Of Polenta
Yeah, But Will Cornmeal Work?

Sure, in a pinch you can substitute Cornmeal when Whole Foods bulk bins are empty or full of just Cornmeal.  The only hitch is the true flavor of a nutty, slightly sweet corn, takes a hit and the texture does as well, getting more pasty or gummy the finer the grain gets. But whatever you buy, skip the instant or the stuff already made in a tube or you’ll never, ever understand this obsession!

So You’ve Got the Good Grain, Here’s a Starter Recipe 

Basic Polenta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Magic of Polenta
Magic of Polenta
Ingredients: 

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Cup Polenta
  • 4 1/2 Cups Water (Boiling)

Directions

  1. Slowly whisk Polenta into boiling water
  2. Stir for 5 minutes as it thickens
  3. Turn heat to low, cover with lid
  4. Cook 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes
  5. Add additional 1/2 cup of water along the way if too thick

No really, it’s that simple. It takes a little time, but you’ve got the basics in place with just salt, water and Polenta.

The magic to Polenta is in what you do with it beyond the basics.

Go Ahead, Play With Your Polenta!

  • Broth Swap-Infusion: Like pasta, cooking Polenta in water provides a chance to infuse flavor. Substitute homemade broths or infusing your water with Herbes de Provence, Saffron or even a few of dried mushrooms.
  • You’ve Got to Herb It, Herb It – Right!:  Just before plating, fold in herbs, lots of herbs. The heat releases the flavors and perfumes your dish. Stick with heartier diced herbs that’s don’t wilt like Basil. Try Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and most definitely Tarragon.
  • Concia: Northern Italians love their Polenta Concia and so do I. Concia essentially means “treated” but for us English Speakers, the best translation means CHEESE! Traditional recipes turn to Tome or cheeses that melt well, literally becoming the Polenta Concia, but I like stinky cheese and Gorgonzola is outstanding here.
  • Butter Up: When you keep it simple with herbs and cheeses, just make sure you end with butter, lots of butter. like a shiny coating of butter that soak down as you spoon out a bit, butter. Yeah, now you’re talking Comfort Food.
  • Get Sauced: Coarser grain Polenta and a 1 to 4 ration of grain to water, yields a firmer texture that’s perfect for thick tomato based, meat friendly sauces or “sugo” like my friend Angela remembers from childhood. So open a bottle of red, plate and top your Polenta with your favorite meaty red sauce, grate some cheese and call it a tasty day.
  • Look to Venice: Polenta in Venice is otherworldly. Venetians use white grain Polenta, cook it firm, spoon it out, bake it up and slice it. Drooling over here in Italy right now. Compelled to go back and find photo!

Baccalà & Polenta Two Ways
Baccalà & Polenta Two Ways in Venice
I may not be an Italian Mamma, but I do insist you have some. No really, eat! You look too thin and the plates not empty yet.

More Polenta Please: Stories of Comfort Potatoes to Polenta, Polenta at 8 Angell Street a Homemade Tale

Info Sources:

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