About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, April 07, 2006
I was talking to a friend the other day about what our kids like to eat, when I mentioned that our daughter M loves polenta. She said that she had cooked it once but didn't really like it, which I thought odd at the time, but the conversation moved on and I didn't get to ask her about it. Thinking about it later though, I sort of know why.

Polenta is one of those things that seem deceptively simple, it's just polenta, salt and water, but the truth is if you don't pay attention all the way along, it doesn't always turn out right. The first thing to know is that not all polenta is created equal. As in all things there is good quality and the not so good. You wouldn't think that something as simple as corn, dried and ground could vary much, but it does. I can't say why this is, my suspicion is that the quality of the corn and its subsequent handling as well as the milling process have a lot to do with it.

We have tried a few different brands, starting from a supermarket brand called Tasty, through to organic, stone ground from Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market. But the one we like best is Belmonte Polenta Traditional, an Italian brand, which I first found in Coles, but now it only seems to be stocked by the Essential Ingredient.

The next thing to look at is the recipe. All packets of polenta will have instructions on how to prepare it, but I want you to avoid that. Early on I made polenta with these directions and it always had a stodgy quality about it, as well as being hard to cook. It's normal in polenta making for a crust of corn to form on the bottom of the pot, how thick this becomes depends on how well you stir the pot. When you make polenta that is quite thick, it is not only harder to stir, but the crust is thicker as well.

This brings me to my recipe, well Marcella Hazan's recipe which I've adapted. She maintains that instant polenta can be improved by extending the recommended cooking time to as much as twenty minutes. But if you want really good polenta, the traditional one will yield a far better result. The first time I cooked traditional polenta to her recipe, is the first time I really enjoyed it.

Marcella says for instant polenta you will need 1.5 l (2.6 p) water, one tablespoon salt and 255 g (9 0z) instant polenta, and cook for about twenty minutes. For traditional polenta you need to increase the water to 1.75 l (3 p), and cook for up to 40 minutes. By comparison, the Belmonte packet directions state 2 l water to 500 g polenta, which works out to 437 g polenta per 1.75 l water, quite a difference.

The next step is to bring the water to the boil in a thick based pot, add the salt and slowly pour in the polenta whilst stirring with a whisk. Marcella says to pour the polenta like rain, this way you will avoid lumps. Now this is where I vary from Marcella, she advises to change from the whisk to a wooden spoon, adjust the heat down and keep stirring until done. Because this polenta is thinner than most, you can put the pot onto a simmer mat, adjust the heat until there is just an occasional plop, plop of molten polenta and give it a stir every now and then still using the whisk. You can walk away!

When the polenta starts to come away from the sides of the pot, it is ready. You can taste to verify this, it should have a silken texture. Now there is another decision to make, you can serve it as it is, or you can add a knob of butter and a grating of cheese, which is the way we serve it. The butter and cheese add a creaminess that is divine. We use grana padano which is about half the cost of parmigiano reggiano and the flavour is not all that different, in fact I suspect that more grana is used in Italy than parmigiano for this reason.

Pour the cooked polenta into a bowl, this quantity should serve six. The choice of what to serve with it is important for polenta loves wet food. Any choice of stew or casserole would be ideal, it can also replace Risotto Milanese in Osso Bucco. If by some miracle there is polenta left over, it will have firmed right up. There is no need to throw it away. Store it in the fridge and when you want to use it, cut it into cubes any size you like and fry them in a non stick frypan until golden, you can also cut them into tile shapes and use them to cover a shepherd's pie instead of mashed potato for example.
  posted at 10:35 am

At 6:46 am, Blogger Gigi said...

I love Polenta and haven't made it ages. Now you've made me want to and I can't (the victim of my current diet.) It sounds wonderful, though.

At 6:37 pm, Blogger neil said...

That is so sad gigi, but more power to you. Hope you get to eat some one day.

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