Polenta

Polenta

By
From
Tuscany
Serves
6
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

Polenta is ground dried maize. It can be yellow or white, and fine and smooth or rough and gritty. It has been a staple filling meal for centuries in Italy, more common in the north than the south. It can be eaten with savoury dishes or used in sweet cakes and biscuits. We like it served soft and made with plenty of butter and cheese. It forms a warm pillow for a rich ragù.

Giancarlo’s father measured polenta by hand, letting a fistful (manciata) of polenta fall slowly into a pan of boiling, salted water from his hand held at head height, whisking it in as it fell. To cook polenta in milk was considered wasteful in his day, but we now recommend half milk and half water or vegetable stock for a richer finish.

Quick-cook polenta is used commonly in Italy and it is ready in just 5 minutes. There is a subtle difference in texture and flavour but only polenta aficionados would notice! If you do use quick-cook polenta, cook it following the packet instructions. Both set and soft polenta is made in the same way, but more liquid and a good dollop of butter is added to the soft version. Once polenta sets it becomes solid and can be cut into shapes and grilled or fried. It forms a good base for crostini toppings if you are following a gluten-free diet.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 litre water or stock
or 500ml whole milk
500ml water, for set polenta
150g polenta
10g fine salt
plain flour, for dusting (optional)
sunflower oil, for greasing and frying

Method

  1. Bring the water, stock or milk/water mix to the boil in a large saucepan. Slowly pour the polenta from a height into the boiling water while stirring constantly for 5 minutes, then stir every 5 minutes for a further 35 minutes. Add the salt to taste and remove from the heat. Grease a shallow rectangular tin roughly 20 × 30 × 1.5 cm or a work surface with oil and pour the hot polenta onto it. Spread a little oil on top and flatten it down with an oiled spatula until it is 1.5 cm thick, then leave to cool until it is set firm. Cut the firm polenta into 24 squares, about 5 cm in size. Toast the polenta squares under a grill until lightly browned. Alternatively, dip them in flour, shake off any excess, and fry in sunflower oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat.

To make soft, cheesy polenta

  • Follow the recipe for set polenta but add a further 200 ml water to the pan. Then stir in 100 g butter and 50 g finely grated Parmesan at the end of cooking, for a rich flavour and glossy finish.

Tags:
Italy
Italian
Caldesi
Tuscany
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