27 Mar Polenta
27 March 2020
PREP. TIME: 2 MIN - COOK TIME: 40 MIN - SERVES: 6
Many Australians may not be so familiar with this wonderfully versatile, northern Italian staple. Polenta is just ground maize - cornmeal, so it is naturally gluten free which will probably please many of you. It is not complex to make and anyone who can concentrate on stirring a pot for any length of time will have it nailed. Polenta can be used as a sweet or savoury ingredient.
The thing about polenta is that it is versatile enough to be used with many favourite pasta sauces and meat and fish stews, it is inexpensive, delicious, and satisfying - warming everyones tummy, restoring the energy in any household the moment it arrives on the table.
It is generally available in supermarkets, Italian delicatessens and general stores. (Leaf Store in Elwood https://theleafstore.com.au/ normally stock it and they offer home delivery as do Enoteca Sileno in Carlton - https://enoteca.com.au/ I saw 1kg vacuum sealed bags of white polenta today in Meat Smith https://meatsmith.com.au/ who now have home delivery. The premium white polenta is sold here for $19/kg - which though pricey would amount to up to 30 serves. The instant yellow polenta can be found for less than $8 / kg in supermarkets. I have seen it at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Road for about $3 / kg.
Savoury polenta can replace rice, potatoes or pasta in most cases. It can be served firm or soft and creamy, grilled, baked or fried. It is excellent topped with fresh tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms cooked in butter and olive oil, Osso Bucco, Bolognese meat Ragu, or a beef or rabbit stew - the possibilities are endless and positively delicious.
There is both yellow and white polenta, depending on whether one uses meal from yellow or white corn. The corn meal itself may be either fine - grained or coarse. Yellow polenta is more common but if you see the white polenta it is particularly delicate and creamy and light in texture and ideal with fish stews with tomato sauce or rabbit stew. The yellow polenta is robustly satisfying in texture and ideal with strongly flavoured meat or mushroom stews with lots of sauce. Both white and yellow polenta are a great choice with vegetarians and delicious with braised vegetables or melted cheese - classically Gorgonzola if you can get it.
Polenta can be found in instant (Polenta Pronta) and regular packs. The instant is very acceptable but not really that instant because I recommend that you cook it for about 20 minutes longer than the 3 - 5 minutes suggested in the packet directions.
Polenta is classically made just with salted water. I love to add cream or butter and grated cheese - preferably Parmesan to it before serving with a meat braise - and I always prefer a creamier, softer texture - you achieve this by adding more water during the cooking time. No matter how soft the polenta when it is hot though - it always firms up when cool. For this reason I recommend that you store any left over polenta in a shallow square or rectangle dish. You can then reheat it in the oven and cut into slabs to serve or cut it into pieces and fry it in hot olive oil - like thick chips or to whatever size you prefer. Gorgeous hot with grated cheese and salt and pepper and little else.
The notes that follow on cooking Polenta have been adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
The variations on serving polenta are so vast - so long as you can get polenta you will not go hungry I assure you.
NB WARNING TO COOKS.
Polenta can spit furiously from the pot and burn you badly!! Keep a lid or spatter protector handy to protect yourself.
2 - 2.25 litres Hot Water
Salt to taste
1 1/2 cups Yellow Polenta
Measuring cup; Medium size saucepan; Whisk; Wooden spoon
Put the hot water in a large, heavy based pot and lightly salt - say 2 - 3 teaspoons to start. Bring the water to a slow boil
Gradually add the polenta by allowing it to fall from your hand from above the pot like sand through your fingers. You should be able to see the individual grains spilling into the pot. The entire time you are adding the cornmeal , stir it with a large whisk, and keep the water boiling.
As the temperature rises the maize will integrate with the water and thicken.
Begin to stir with a long handled wooden spoon, stirring continuously and thoroughly, bringing the mixture up from the bottom and loosening it from the sides of the pot
Continue to stir for 45 - 50 minutes.
Protect yourself from spats from the boiling polenta using a spatter protector or lid.
Stir all of the time, and if you have used too much maize or the mixture is just too thick, add half a cup of water at a time until you have the desired consistency.
The cornmeal becomes polenta when it forms a mass that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the pot.
Taste for salt and if you have it - add some parmesan cheese.
When the polenta is smooth and does not taste of raw maize, it is ready.
Allow about 25 minutes for ‘Instant or Pronta’ polenta and 45 minutes for regular.
Notes on Consistency
As it begins to cool, polenta should be thick and when moved, firm enough to quiver. From an Italian point of view, it is least appealing when it is thin and runny as breakfast porridge.
Cleaning the Pot
After emptying the polenta from the pot, fill it with cold water and set it aside to soak overnight. In the morning most of the cornmeal film attached to the pot lifts off easily.
Recipe by Marcella Hazan, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
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