There are only 3 ingredients in Italian polenta: cornmeal, water and salt, so that makes it as good for the pocketbook as it does for the soul! Nothing warms the soul on a cold winter’s day more than creamy polenta. In the Northern part of Italy (especially near the Dolomiti Mountains in the regions of Piemonte, Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia, Trentino Alto- Adige, the Veneto and Friuli- Venezia Giulia), polenta is eaten so often that the people of the area are referred to as polentoni (the polenta-eaters). Every winter I become one too! It’s best served with braised meats like lamb shank and vegetarians can make it with mushrooms in a rich dried porcini sauce- recipe coming soon!
Although it is frequently found served with cheese, butter and milk in the USA, the following recipe is the true, authentic Italian polenta, born out of poverty with only made with cornmeal, water and salt. To quote Mario Batali “Don’t add butter; butter in polenta is a sign of an un-evolved palate”. No arguments here!
Polenta has a reputation that it must be constantly stirred and I made it that way a few times until I came up with this method that makes terrific, lump-free polenta and only minimal stirring!
8 C cool water, plus more as necessary
2C polenta corn meal (preferably not instant and never, ever the kind in the plastic tube! See slideshow for brands available in Atlanta)
2T kosher salt
Place the water in a heavy bottomed pot, like a stew or wide pasta pot. I love my 11” diameter 6” high All-Clad pot for this job. Very slowly pour the corn meal into the water, whisking vigorously all the while. The combination of the whisking and the water being cool with prevent lumps. Add salt and turn heat to high. When the water becomes hot, whisk often until it comes to a boil. Turn heat to simmer and switch to a wooden spoon. Come by and give it a stir every few minutes during the first 15-20 minutes. It will likely need more water at this point. If so, add more. It may even require up to 2 additional cups. It can then be stirred every 20 minutes, adding more liquid when necessary. Good polenta takes time! (2-3 hours) Don’t rush it and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts!
Make ahead: The polenta can be made several hours in advance. Gently re-heat on the stove top over low heat.
Cleaning tip: If the polenta sticks to the bottom of the pot- Fret not! Do not try cleaning it right away. Simply soak the pan in cold water overnight. The next morning, the polenta will come right up from the bottom of the pan in one large rubbery disk like a frisbee with no scrubbing involved!
Andrea is now the Atlanta Italian Restaurant Examiner!