I didn’t know about polenta during my midwest upbringing. I had heard of cornmeal. We made cornbread. We used cornmeal as a breading on fish, but polenta entered my life when I was in my late 20’s. I had gone to a high end Italian restaurant and they served me a warm, creamy, cheesy polenta on a plate with a beautifully seared veal chop on top. Wow. I had never had such a delight. I wanted to know everything about polenta. I knew corn was involved and for years that is all I knew. Now I know polenta is simply cornmeal. If it has the word “polenta” on the package, it will be priced a lot higher.
So for all things Italian I go to my dear friend, Anna Romeo Fiore. If you have not quessed by her name, she is Italian. First generation here in this country. Her parents were born in Salerno, Italy. I loved and still love my friendship with Anna for all the laughter, loving spirit and warmth she gives me as a friend. When I first met her, I had never had an Italian friend. Anna had never had a WASP friend from the midwest. We were just fasinated by each other’s cultures. We grew up a little over 200 miles from each other, but it could of been a ocean that separated us.
Now back to polenta…I told Anna’s mother, Theresa, about my first polenta experience and she laughed. “How much they charge you for that? It is nothing but peasant food. You got robbed.” What? She went on to explain to me that when they did not have eggs for pasta, they would make a pot of polenta along with the ragu. She had a oblong board that she would put in the middle of the table and pour the steaming polenta down on the full length of the board and then pour the ragu over the top. Everyone would have their own paddle and scoop the filling, tasty mix onto their own plates.
These days the way I make polenta is to make up a batch during the day and let it cool in a pan in the fridge. We then cut a slice to heat up and top with something delightful. One of my favorites is a great recipe by Arielleclementine for Food52. She taught me to put carmelized onions, feta cheese (she used goat, but I always have feta), and drizzled it with honey. You can not believe how addicting all these salty sweet flavors are to me. I will even make this for breakfast for myself. Start out with polenta you have on hand and then throw on various toppings. From Italian meat sauce to sauteed veggies, they all taste great on top of the polenta.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup polenta aka cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 yellow onion, halved and sliced in 1/4″ slices
- 2 ounces feta or goat cheese, crumbled
- honey, to drizzle
Mushroom topping: I love making this for Meatless Mondays
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 T. butter
- 1 heaping cup sliced mushrooms (variety of whatever you have)
- 1/2 cup thinnly sliced onions
- 2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
- fresh thyme, a few sprigs
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 T. creme
* Heat up oil and butter in a saute’ pan over medium heat.
* Place onions and mushrooms in pan until softened, then add thyme, wine and garlic and simmer until wine has been absorbed.
* Add creme, stir and taste.
* Add salt and pepper to your taste.
When I assemble this one I usually grate parmesan cheese on the top with a microplane. For my son with allergies or your vegan friends I replace milk with rice milk , butter with Earth Balance.
In the end, polenta can be used to fill those holes in your food repertoire. This peasant food has come a long way, but it is still easy and cost effective.
Oh, I want some with feta, carmelized onions and honey right now. I told you I craved this stuff.
Pull up a chair, Elizabeth