It’s great to see Italian staples such as polenta appearing on the menus of the restaurants in Italy and across the U.S. It’s reputation has certainly come a long way. Years ago the item was a way for Italian Americans, struggling to make ends meet, to satisfy appetites without breaking the bank. My father, for example, often told me stories of how the delicious cornmeal mixture was on his plate growing up in the Italian section of Jersey City more than once a week. It was inexpensive, but also tasty, and could be served in a variety of ways.
Polenta is porridge-like food made with fine cornmeal. It has been a staple food in Italy for centuries. Originating in northern Italy, this dish takes a 3 to 1 ratio of water and 45 minutes to cook to get a creamy-like consistency. Fine cornmeal makes the best polenta. Many let it cool, solidify, and then cut, bake, fry or grill it. It is often served with marinara sauce and grated cheese or other vegetables such as mushrooms.
The best polenta dish happens when a little TLC is given. The longer polenta is cooked the better it is. In order to prevent the polenta from burning at the bottom of the pot, it needs to be continually stirred. In the hills in Abruzzo, many use a long wooden spoon, known as a “tarello,” to stir this with two hands.
Although a lot of effort and time is needed for this traditional Italian dish, it is also a wonderful winter dish that can be frozen then pulled out and popped in the microwave. You can serve it alone with a dab of butter and top with some grated cheese, or serve as a side dish to your favorite stew.
I encourage you to watch this polenta video of the adorable Italian grandmother, Gina, on her “Buon-A-Petitti” YouTube channel who has almost a million followers. Here is also a wonderful traditional polenta recipe by Lidia Bastianich.