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The comeback of the mighty polenta

Polenta (photo by ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Polenta (photo by ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a list maker. It’s a great way to organize my thoughts and keep track of things I might otherwise forget, not to mention there is a great sense of accomplishment when crossing an item off of said list. My lists are everywhere: on post-its in my office, on the backs of receipts, or saved on my cell phone. While I have many practical lists (weekend to-do list! Work to-do list!) I have many more that are, perhaps not surprisingly, culinary. There is my “recipe to try” list, my “restaurants to try” list my “favorite desserts” list and, relevant to today’s post, my “most memorable meals” list.

At the top of this list is a meal I had a few years ago in Lake Como, at a restaurant that my friends Luca, Chiara, and Matteo brought me to. Apart from the fact that this restaurant was all the way up in the mountains and was complete with its own fireplace, the food was incredible. We were served family style portions of typical dishes like pizzoccheri*, braised meat, and sausages over polenta, a classic Northern Italian dish.

While everyone knows pasta, polenta is a primo that gets pushed out of the spotlight. It’s no wonder, really, as polenta may be a bit of a hard sell at first glance. After all, it is technically cornmeal cooked in water (not the most appetizing of descriptions) and was historically “peasant” food, eaten by Italians who could not afford anything more substantial. But really, polenta is not so different from pasta. When cooked in water it becomes a blank canvas for ragù, sausages, or sautéed mushrooms, among other things. There is also the option of preparing the polenta with ingredients like milk, butter, and cheese, which transforms it into rich and filling comfort food.

When I returned to Rome after my trip to Lake Como, this recipe was at the top of my “to make” list, and it was just as good as what I had eaten during my trip. It is creamy and cheesy, not to mention delicious and a super speedy meal.

One last thing – note that there are two kinds of polenta, the first being the softer creamier version (like this recipe here) or the firmer polenta, which is essentially polenta that has been refrigerated until set and then sliced and baked or pan fried. Both are delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 9 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal or polenta
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy pot. Add the salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cheese, milk, and butter. Stir until the butter and cheese have melted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the polenta to a bowl and serve.

Recipe adapted from www.foodnetwork.com.

Polenta (photo by ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Polenta (photo by ©Francesca Bruzzese)

About Francesca Bruzzese

Francesca Bruzzese is an avid cook and baker who has been living in Rome, Italy since 2011. A Rhode Island native with Italian roots, you can usually find her in the kitchen making dolci to bring to her colleagues at work, developing new recipes to add to her repertoire, or planning her next dinner party. In addition to contributing recipes and articles to Eating Italy Food Tours, she also has a food blog, Pancakes and Biscotti (www.pancakesandbiscotti.com).