Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recipe: Stovetop Polenta

 Polenta is a simple food in Italian origin that is cornmeal cooked until it becomes a porridge. The cornmeal simmers in water until it softens and the starch is released which causes it to thicken or gelatinize. After this point, it can be served with a spoon, molded into shapes, or spread in a pan and then cut into shapes with either a knife or cookie cutter. The polenta cakes can then be grilled or sautéed, or just heated. Polenta becomes a base for other recipes and preparing it is a good skill to have in your culinary repertoire.
It's simple, but time consuming and can be made elegant, such as infusing with herbs and cheese, or simple and vegan, cooking with only water and salt.
Polenta cooks on the stovetop for a long time. You'll need a heavy kettle or pot, wooden spoon or heavy silicon scraper, water, salt, and cornmeal.
You can purchase ready-made polenta, (although I have not tried it). But, it is simple to make your own. I purchase course cornmeal, either by the bag or in the canister. The directions for polenta are usually on the back of the package, but the ratio is usually 4 cups of water to 1 cup of cornmeal.
Heat the water and salt in a large, heavy pot until boiling. Slowly, add the cornmeal, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. Stir continually until the mixture reboils and then lower the heat to a simmer. Continue to stir, occasionally, while keeping an eye on the polenta. You don't want it to burn,  but you don't want the heat to be too low, either. Continue to cook, stir, and keep an eye on it until the mixture is thick and when you remove the spoon, it sticks and leaves an indent in the polenta. It should take a minimum of 30 minutes. When the polenta is cooked, remove the pot from the heat. You can either transfer it to a bowl or spread it in a prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Polenta is best made in advance, as the extra time gives it a chance to set up.
Here is the polenta sliced, after being prepared and refrigerated for 24 hours. It can now be cubed, grilled, sautéed, roasted, or toasted. 
Be sure to check back tomorrow for a delicious recipe using polenta.

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