Polenta is the typical dish from my home town back in Italy, Bergamo. What rice is for Milan, fresh pasta is for Emilia Romagna, pizza is for Naples, Polenta is for Bergamo. It used to be the main, and often only, food for farmers and poor people until around WWII and still today in winter polenta is cooked at least once a week. So, after my first year in the US I decided to use one of the suitcases I was allowed to check in on the plane to bring back an electric paiolo: a wonderful copper pot with an even more wonderful automatically rotating blade that saves you from constantly stirring polenta while it cooks.
Polenta can be cooked in different ways, with different kind of cornflour and to different textures. The one from Bergamo is made with pretty coarse cornflour and is cooked until it is almost solid. Here is how you proceed.
- 1 lb of coarse corn flour (after much experimenting with different corn flours, I can safely say that the only ones that really work are the ones made specifically for polenta)
- 4 quarts water
- Bring about 4 quarts of water to a low boil. When the water starts simmering add salt, like if you were cooking pasta, and then about 1 pound of flour. You will have added enough flour as soon as all the liquid has combined with the flour: the polenta will be fluid but it will thicken up within a couple of minutes.
- Keep stirring your polenta every few minutes for the whole cooking time. It will take a good 60 minutes for it to be ready. Even if it absorbs all the liquid and looks like it is done to you let it cook for 60 minutes: it will improve.
- Serve with hearty stews, roasted meats, brats and even stewed fish. Polenta is also great with cheese: place a bit of warm polenta on some soft cheese like gorgonzola or taleggio and when the cheese is melted have that heavenly bite!
Tips and tricks:
- water should not be boiling but only simmering when you add the flour
- use a whisk when you first add the flour and then move to a wooden spoon when the polenta thickens
- add flour until there is no visible liquid in the pot:
- use a thin pot (possibly unlined copper and round bottomed) and let a crust develop (i.e. don't worry about scraping the bottom too much): it helps with the taste of the polenta