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Monday, September 30, 2013

Polenta, Two Ways

It's hard for me to believe I didn't discover polenta until 10 years ago. I never saw it on a menu at an Italian restaurant and certainly never heard it mentioned. I adore polenta and am glad to have come across it, even later in my life. I think some cooks have avoided it because old recipes instructed cooks to stir for 45 minutes or so. That isn't necessary, although it should be cooked slowly at a very low temperature to let the flavors develop (except for the microwave method, also included below). Apparently it is a traditional peasant food; versatile, rather inexpensive, and fairly quick to prepare.

Corn ground for polenta. For more info see this:


Stove-top Polenta

Adapted from What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
Serves 4-6, in spite of coming from a book about single dining

1 cup uncooked polenta, not instant
1 teas salt
4 c water
grated cheese

Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Gradually stir in the polenta in a slow steady stream, then add the salt. Lower the heat to medium if you are cooking over gas or to low if you are cooking on an electric stove. Stir until the polenta has absorbed enough water to make an even mass, more or less. Lower the heat even more, to the lowest setting. At this point you can leave it alone, stirring just now and then to make certain it isn't sticking. It should be cooked for at least 30 minutes to have the best texture and flavor. The longer it cooks after that, the better. (I find it usually takes me 30-45 minutes to prepare a topping so if I start the polenta first, everything is ready at the same time.) Once done, add 1 T salt and 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese. Other cheeses, especially left over odds and ends may be used. According to Madison, fontina and mozzarella are good as are Gorgonzola or other blue cheeses. Taste to check the salt; stir in more, if needed.

At this point, spoon polenta on your plate and top with a meat sauce, braised greens, sauteed mushrooms or serve with chicken or pork. There are plenty of suggestions on the internet. Also see the note accompanying Italian Braised Green Beans. 

See notes below.


Microwave Polenta  

Adapted from
Yields 3 1/2 cups

1 c medium grind cornmeal or polenta 
3 1/2 c water 
1 teas table salt 
pepper to taste

In a 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup, covered with plastic wrap, microwave cornmeal, water, and salt at 100% power for 6 minutes. Uncover and stir thoroughly, then continue to microwave at 100% power until polenta is creamy and fully cooked, 5 to 6 minutes longer. Stir in pepper.

Stir in 1-2 T butter and 1/2-3/4 c parmesan cheese. Check for seasonings and serve. 


If you leave out the cheese, polenta can be a tasty breakfast with fruit and a bit of cream. (I suppose it wouldn't be bad if the cheese is left in. You choose.)
When polenta cools, it becomes rather solid. You may use it as left overs in the solid form. Cut into pieces and heat in olive oil (this has a tendency to pop, a little like popcorn, but it is tasty). 

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