Polenta, or “Italian grits,” is made with coarse stone-ground cornmeal, polenta is often referred and is a hearty porridge with a grainy texture. Polenta originated in Northern Italy where it was essential to many peasant and working class families—a simple yet satisfying dish.
It is often eaten family-style from a large platter or wooden board, allowing guests to serve themselves at the table.
Top with some of your favorite toppings. I cooked up some sweet Italian sausage, roasted mini peppers, mixed exotic mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil, lots of garlic and Parmesan cheese. But polenta is a wonderful blank canvas, so you can top it with almost anything. I did the “soft polenta” version with more water, but you could choose the firmer polenta (you can chill it, slice it and fry it). You can also simply sprinkle it with Parmesan and serve as a side to any protein. Both cooking methods are listed here.
To serve the polenta, simply transfer the board or platter to the table and let everyone serve themselves…or give each person a spoon and let them dive in!
Salt and pepper
1cup medium or fine cornmeal
Parmesan for soft polenta, optional
For firm polenta use 4 cups water; for soft polenta use 5 cups water.
Bring water to a boil in a medium-size heavy sauce pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Pour cornmeal slowly into water, stirring with a wire whisk or wooden spoon. Continue stirring as mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn heat to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If polenta becomes quite thick, thin it with ½ cup water, stir well and continue cooking. Add up to 1 cup more water as necessary, to keep polenta soft enough to stir. Put a spoonful on a plate, let it cool, then taste. Grains should be swollen and taste cooked, not raw. Adjust salt and add pepper if you wish.
For firm polenta, lightly butter a baking sheet or shallow dish, approximately 8½ by 11 inches. Carefully pour polenta into pan. Using a spatula, spread polenta to a thickness of ¾ inch. Cool to room temperature to allow polenta to solidify. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. For soft polenta, add 6 tablespoons butter to pot and stir well. Serve immediately or transfer to a double boiler set over low heat, cover and keep warm for up to an hour or so. (Or set the saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water.) Stir well before spooning into low soup bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.
Many wines would go with this polenta board, but with the toppings I chose, I went for something really special - the Masi Costasera Amarone from Venice. It’s full-bodied and rich, and rounds these ingredients into a complete meal, especially if you have fun companions to hand a fork to.