Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buono!: Polenta

Dinner polenta with carrots, kale and white beans

Breakfast polenta toasted and topped with a fried egg

What’s the difference between corn meal and polenta?
The price.

Yes, that was a polenta joke and, like many jokes, it offers some truth. Polenta is corn meal, which means you can purchase cheap corn meal instead of an imported version with the Italian word polenta and serve the same results for less money.

A reader recently wrote to ask about my favorite polenta recipes. While the name sounds unappealing, I usually start with the recipe for “Corn Meal Mush” on the back of the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal container (you can find a similar one here) and add a little olive oil and spices. 

The trick when cooking corn meal is to avoid the lumps that can easily form. The fine grain cooks quickly and clumps at the same speed. Try starting with the corn meal in the water before you heat it or mix half the water with corn meal and then add the mixture to the boiling water slowly. The classic approach is to slowly pour in the corn meal into the boiling water while mixing rigorously with your other hand. 

I recently tried the Polenta with Beans and Vegetables recipe from Michele Scicolone’s cookbook The Italian Slow Cooker. This dish combines polenta with white beans, kale (or a similar green, leafy vegetable) and grated carrots. (Read the whole recipe here through Google books). It was delicious and super easy. I do admit that I peaked in on it a few times and stirred it. I couldn’t resist. I served it in a bowl topped with olive oil, hot pepper and freshly grated cheese.  See the picture above.

Leftover polenta in the fridge becomes a dense block. When you store it, make sure to flatten out the top (with a spoon) so that you can better slice it later. After refrigeration, the result is much like the tubes of cooked polenta that you can purchase.

So, the next day you have a block of polenta. After slicing, the result looks a little like slices of bread, right? You can serve it like bread, too. Above, you’ll see that I toasted it and topped it with an egg for breakfast. You can also fry or bake the slices and top them with anything you like (think of it like bruschetta and add tomatoes, or olives or … you decide.)

What is your favorite polenta recipe?

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