This post marks the fourth and last story on polenta planned for the wintry month of February. At the outset of the project, four savory and four sweet recipes seemed the perfect, compact number for a blog collaboration. And yet, as the project comes to an end, I promise that more recipes will be added to this collection.
Like the potato and pasta, polenta is an ingredient of the ages. It stands as symbol for simplicity; it is a reminder of country walks and of mist slowly rolling over farm fields at dusk; last but not least, it recalls the promise that the smoky perfume of burning firewood brings.
The history of corn’s arrival in Italy, the traditions surrounding its cultivation and it’s use in the kitchen could fill volumes. Perhaps someday this subject could become the starting point for my book about that part of Italy named the Veneto; but that’s another story all together. Now back to the subject of this particular food icon . . .
Polenta holds a prominent place on Italian pantry shelves, not only because of its past history. It is the centerpiece of countless family get-togethers, especially of the sort organized on Sunday afternoon, known fondly in Italian as “il pranzo della domenica”. It is cooked simply with water, broth or milk. It is served as a mash, with or without the addition of butter and melting cheeses. Steaming, hot polenta is spread out on wooden cutting boards, cooled in cake tins or formed into the shape of a thick pancake. Once cold, it is famous when sliced, rubbed with olive oil (and sometimes garlic), only to be grilled on an open fire until charred around the edges. This happens to be my absolute favorite by the way!
- The ratio of liquid to cornmeal is 4:1, but this can vary a bit according to the coarseness of the cornmeal
- Salt is essential to create flavor and salt absolutely elevates the flavor during the cooking process
- The element time plays an essential role, because one truly needs to stir continuously and slowly, touching on the bottom as well as the edges of the pan in the process, until the cornmeal becomes a creamy polenta
- I mention specifically using a wooden spoon to stir and cook because I learned in the Veneto that wood is essential. This is another subject for further research because I cannot tell you why this material is must be in the polenta equation
- In my recipe for “pizza gialla”, I suggest cooking the polenta in a double-boiler. While not traditional, it is a method that prevents sticking, clumping, burning and generally un-cooked polenta. I especially recommend this method if your stove has a strong source of heat, even when turned down low
To conclude this series, I would like to add a suggestion for grilled polenta, referred to in Italian as “abbrustolita“, the beautiful word for “toasted“. especially for those who do not have an open hearth or wood-burning stove, myself included!
More a simple explanation for how to prepare a meal with leftover polenta, this recipe makes for the perfect supper when the words “casual” and “seasonal” sound appealing. It is especially nice for those who do not have an open hearth or wood-burning stove, myself included!
Ingredients for a polenta “abbrustolita”
- one recipe for polenta porridge
- 25-50 ml extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt flakes
- a pinch of white or black peppercorns
Follow the recipe for soft polenta porridge. Once cooked, pour the warm polenta onto a wooden cutting board. Spread it quickly and evenly into a loaf, about three centimeters in thickness. Allow it to cool completely for at least one hour, as this solidifies the polenta, making it easy to cut.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius with the fan on. Cut the polenta with a knife into even squares, triangles or oblong shapes at least 4 cm in width. Brush the top of the cut polenta with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle it with sea salt flakes. Cover a flat oven tray with parchment paper and brush it with olive oil. Arrange the sliced polenta on the oven platter, leaving room on all sides so that it can crisp on all sides. Put the tray in the oven and bake the polenta until toasted and golden 10-15 minutes.
Alternatively, heat a grill pan at medium heat on a stove top. Brush the bottom of the grill pan generously with olive oil. Arrange the sliced polenta in batches on the grill pan. Toast each side 5-10 minutes, until golden and crisp. Serve the polenta warm, sprinkled with freshly ground pepper. The polenta is ready to serve as part of an aperitivo platter.
Top the polenta abbrustolita with any of the following toppings, or simply create your own!
- Gorgonzola dolce with walnuts
- marinated artichoke hearts
- smoked herring . mackerel or anchovies
- pickled onions
The next few recipes I post will be dedicated to vegetables, that are not only traditional in the Veneto, but seasonal as well! Meanwhile, enjoy your moments in the kitchen!