Cooks in the Veneto, Friuli and Lombardy, who know polenta better than any other Italians, insist cornmeal needs an hour or more of cooking to come to full tenderness and flavor, and to lose any trace of bitterness. Unless you like harsh, raw cornmeal mush, please ignore recipes recommending cooking polenta fifteen to twenty minutes. Tedious stirring and traditional polenta aren't synonymous. This double boiler method is nearly effortless. Italian cooks often make a big batch of polenta, eat some fresh and store the rest in the refrigerator for later grilling, baking, or sautéeing.
The Double Boiler Method
The double-boiler technique consists of pouring boiling water into a bowl, whisking in polenta and salt, setting the bowl over a pot of simmering water, covering it, and cooking 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir the polenta occasionally, and it is done. Here is the basic formula and method for a polenta that stands in high mounds, and cools to firm and sliceable. For creamier polenta, increase the liquid by about one-third.
1.Have handy an 8-quart stainless steel bowl and a whisk. Bring the amount of liquid needed for cooking the polenta to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a 6-quart pot half full with water. Bring to a lively simmer. Place the cornmeal in the bowl. Whisk the boiling, measured liquid into the bowl, whisking until any lumps disappear. Seal the bowl with foil and set it over the simmering water. Cook 1 1/2 hours.
2. During the first 20 minutes, stir polenta several times. Then stir only every 20 or 30 minutes, tasting for salt. Replenish simmering water as necessary. Taste polenta for bitterness and tenderness, cooking another 30 minutes if necessary. For serving polenta soft, it can be held over hot water for up to 3 hours. Or spread the polenta on an oiled shallow pan, or in a loaf pan, cool, cover, and refrigerate up to 5 days.
Serve polenta with anything that has a sauce, like stews, braisings and sautées. Spoon pasta sauce over it, or have with fresh ricotta and honey as they do in the mountains of Lombardy. Layer polenta with cheese, sauce and/or vegetables to make a sort of polenta "lasagne." Bake until heated through.
Leftovers are superb grilled, baked or fried.
Copyright 2001 Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Andrea Reusing is the creator of the restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of the book Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. In this installment of The Key 3, she shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper the techniques behind three of her favorite recipes: Turnip Soup, Overnight Braised Short Ribs and Tomato Salad.