Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do you stir all day or just 30 minutes?

Polenta has it's beginnings as a humble peasant meal and has turned into a widely used side dish in some of the best Italian restaurants in the world - as well as my kitchen.  As a young child, I vividly remember our weekly meal of polenta with red beans and a red sauce or as some would say, gravy.  My Grandfather, Bernard Tieri would have the large, huge pot on the stove with the round wooden pole stirring the polenta all day.  Yes, all day.  When it was time for dinner, he would take a large, wooden plank and place it over the kitchen table.  The polenta would then be poured all over the top of it and finished off with the sauce.  We would sit and be given a fork.  That was our dinner.  No plate, just a fork.  Hard to believe that memory was 50 years ago and is as clear as the last time he made it when some days I can't remember what I ate for breakfast.  You see, that last day was special for me.  I always wanted to participate in the stirring of the polenta, but was never allowed until that day.  How excited was I to see my Grandfather pull up a kitchen chair to the stove, saying in his gruff voice, get over here and handing me the pole. I think it was his way of saying goodbye as later that night he died in his sleep.

I believe this is why I so love polenta today but only make it for company or to bring to my Mother since Jim is not a fan.  He doesn't get why anyone would want to eat cornmeal

So what is polenta?  Coarsely ground yellow cornmeal - nothing fancy.  Today, I make polenta in quite a different manner then my Grandfather.  For instance, I use a copper polenta pot (paiolo).  Copper Polenta PanYes, a specially made pot just for polenta and I LOVE IT!  It works so well since it's base is smaller than the top which means less polenta is exposed to direct heat and reduces the risk of burning.  They are costly but work great, can also be used to create sauces and many other things.  Most of all it will look wonderful in your kitchen and will be passed down to your children.  My girls are already eyeing my pots and pans. 

To make it, you can use a fine cornmeal but it will not provide the right consistency and will cook much too quickly.  I've tried it, so I know it to be true.  The best is a coarse ground yellow.  You should also begin with a whisk and move to a wooden stick to ensure the lumps are eliminated.  Most important, it doesn't take ALL DAY, but just about 30 minutes and you don't need to stir the entire time, but often.  That is what makes it creamy.  I once read somewhere that Julia Child said the reason why they said it took all day, back in the day, was only to keep the Grandmother in the kitchen!

When finished, you can put all sorts of tasty items into it.  Myself, I've made it with herbs, mushrooms, beans, or best with just a large scoop of parmesan cheese.  Sometimes that's just the way to go - butter and cheese, plain, simple and fabulous!

fino a quel momento (until that time)


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