Pronounced “Po-len-tah”, this native dish of Italy is made with ground yellow cornmeal. Unlike grits, which is corn that has been soaked and processed to remove the tough outer hull, polenta has the hull and is therefore more nutritious and less processed.
If you are tired of rice, pasta, quinoa or other grains, you can make something really good with this simple staple. Try to buy organic cornmeal because 80% of the corn grown in the US is genetically modified to be fed to cattles and other farm animals (there isn’t enough grazing land to feed 10 billion of them!) Come to think of it, it is outrageous that this ancient plant native to the Americas, that was available in so many diverse types has been reduced to a patented engineered seed that has taken over the market. Don’t get me started on this!
But I digress, what is nice about it, is that you can make it in all different ways. You can serve it soft like mash potatoes for a rustic meal (a little like grits). Want to impress your guests? Make thick slices, balls, patties or sticks for an appetizer. Can you see the possibilities?
There are 2 kinds of polenta (cornmeal). Most stores carry the regular kind but you can sometimes also find instant polenta, which cooks much faster. I don’t mind using the regular kind, because I am in the kitchen usually preparing the sauce while it cooks. This way, it is nice, cooks over medium heat. No rush, no stress. That’s my motto and I am sticking to it!
COOKING THE POLENTA
Similar to other grains, you need to boil water, add salt and grain, and simmer until tender (approximately 30-45mn). The ratio for the basic recipe is 3 parts liquid to 1 part polenta. You will need to stir every 10mn to keep it from sticking or turning lumpy. If you want a softer result, add a little more water.
Basic ingredients are:
3 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 Tb vegan butter
1 cup cornmeal
NOTE: For fancier versions, you can use vegetable or mushroom broth, instead of water.
You can also add spices, herbs, chopped olives to change its flavor and appearance (you can see the herbs in the close-up photo above).
When the polenta is cooked, transfer it to a greased loaf pan.
Let it cool off for a few hours or refrigerate, then cut the polenta into slices.
You can either pan fry it or use an electric grill (like in the photo) and grill the sticks with very little oil for a low fat version. That’s pretty cool.
Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
E tutto (that’s it, in Italian!)