Nonno’s cake

Nonno’s cake

By
From
Meat
Serves
4
Photographer
Dean Cambray

My brother and I have vivid childhood memories of times spent in our grandparents’ kitchen, and especially of my grandfather’s polenta, which we used to call ‘Nonno’s cake’. My nonno was from a small mountain village in the far north of Italy. When he was a boy, his mother couldn’t afford to buy wheat for bread, so instead she used to make sandwiches from two slices of polenta.

Nonno learned to make polenta from his mother, and my brother and I loved watching him make it for us. He had seemingly endless patience, and used to stir and stir the polenta in a large copper pot until it thickened and stuck to the bottom and sides. After Nonno tipped the polenta out, my brother and I would fight over the crusty bits that stuck to the pot. To this day I still love the smoky flavour that is so distinctive of traditionally cooked polenta.

Nonno used to pour the cooked polenta into a shallow bowl lined with a tea towel. After it had cooled and set, he would invert the polenta onto a plate and carefully peel away the tea towel. Then came our favourite bit: watching Nonno cut the polenta into wedges using a piece of string! We all adored Nonno, and a meal of polenta was always a really special occasion. To go with his polenta, my nonna always made a ragu from diced pork and small Italian sausages. She served it with grated cheese on top and a salad from her garden dressed with vinegar and Italian olive oil. I can’t think of a better way of doing it.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 litre water or stock
1/2 tablespoon salt
250g coarse polenta

Method

  1. Bring the liquid and salt to a boil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Pour in the polenta in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Keep whisking vigorously until the mixture begins to boil. As it thickens, switch to a wooden spoon – thick polenta can ruin a good whisk!
  2. Continue cooking over a medium–high heat, stirring all the time. This is fairly hard work, and not without its dangers. You may find the bubbling polenta spits at you, so be careful…it hurts. You will also find that the polenta forms a thin crusty layer on the bottom and sides of the pan, but after 20 minutes or so, the bulk of it will form a solid mass, and come away from the sides of the pan. At this point, carefully taste a little bit of the polenta and season with more salt, to taste. Some people like to add a big knob of butter, too, but I prefer the truer taste of the cornmeal.
  3. Pour the polenta into a shallow bowl lined with a cloth and leave it to cool and set. Invert onto a plate and cut into wedges with a sharp knife or a piece of string.
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Adrian
Richardson
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