I am constantly amazed at how animated and talkative people get when you mention food. The mere aroma of certain foods can evoke memories that transport us back to a special place and time. Food can bridge the gap between all ages, races and ethnicities.
Let's face it, the only thing that should ever come between people is a table and some serving bowls.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Polenta, sometimes called "Italian Grits"

Polenta “"Primarily a peasant food” is deeply rooted in history even more so than pasta or pizza. Polenta, grits and other "mush" type foods share a common link as the food of poverty. It’s a very simple food that was made from various grains. Today it is more commonly made from corn and can either be yellow or white in color. It can be eaten soft (mush style) or allowed to harden and be eaten more like a bread. The somewhat bland taste of polenta melds with a variety of flavors.

Basic Polenta Recipe Italians often spice-up their polenta by substituting water with broth, and adding any random milk product that they find in the refrigerator - cream, milk, butter or grated cheese work well.
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
Pour 3 cups of the water into a heavy saucepan, add the salt and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat. While the water is coming to a boil, stir the remaining 1/2 cup water into the cornmeal. Stir until the cornmeal is evenly dampened. This will keep the cornmeal from becoming lumpy as it cooks. As soon as the water boils, stir in the dampened cornmeal. Briskly whisk until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to medium-low and briskly stir the cornmeal for 2 or 3 minutes. The mixture will get stiff quickly. When the polenta begins to come away from the sides of the pan and the whisk stands up by itself in the center of the polenta, it is ready to serve.

Soft Polenta Make the basic recipe above, and immediately pour the portions in individual bowls. If desired, stir in any cheese, cooked vegetables, or sauce of choice at this point. Serve Immediately.

Firm Polenta -- to bake, grill or fry Make the basic recipe above, and as soon as you take the pan off the heat, pour the contents into a shallow pan. Cool uncovered on your stovetop until its room temperature, then cover with plastic and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and firm. Once the cornmeal has firmed up, it may be cut into shapes (squares, circles, triangles, rectangles or even stars) and then baked, grilled or fried -- use relatively small polenta slices/shapes for frying and handle very carefully so that they do not fall apart.

The polenta can be eaten as is or you can serve it with your favorite sauce, meat or vegetable. It can be treated very much as you would a pasta, bread or potato.

Try either the soft or the firm polenta with a delicious Puttanesca sauce poured over it.
For the Puttanesca Sauce
• 1 1/4 pound whole peeled tomatoes
• 3/4 cup shallots, minced
• 1/4 cup Nicoise olives, pitted and chopped
• 1/2 cup green Sicilian olives, pitted and chopped
• 1/4 cup pepperoncini, chopped
• 2 tablespoon red chili flakes
• 1/4 cup capers

For Serving
• Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
• Parmesan shavings (optional)

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