Cooking Cove: Polenta – A corny substitute for pasta, porridge or potatoes

Cooking Cove: Polenta – A corny substitute for pasta, porridge or potatoes

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

By Barbara Beltrami

Doesn’t polenta, simply a mixture of corn meal and liquid, sound so much better than corn mush or grits? Actually, they’re all the same thing. While the mush or grits may be just as delicious, their names still suggest a bowl of well, glop; polenta, on the other hand, sounds as if it could be an operatic aria, an Italian race car or expensive designer label. At the very least, it suggests interesting savory continental fare.

A staple in northern Italy, polenta is to that region what pasta is to southern Italy and it’s just as simple to cook. You basically combine water, broth or milk with a five-to-one ratio of liquid to cornmeal, stir it and let it absorb enough water to make it tender, and then serve it up with pretty much anything you would serve with pasta, potatoes or rice. It is particularly good with any dish that has lots of sauce or gravy that it can soak up.

Some people like polenta loose and creamy like porridge or mashed potatoes for a hearty accompaniment or main dish; others like it drier and firmer so it can be sliced, then grilled, toasted or baked. The firmer one makes a terrific base for anything from breakfast to canapés. Have leftovers? Even if originally creamy and loose, polenta will become firm when refrigerated. To make it creamy again, just add some liquid when you reheat it.

Basic Polenta

Basic Polenta

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

5 cups water, milk or chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup medium cornmeal

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS: Pour the liquid into a large sturdy saucepan over high heat; whisk in cornmeal. Stirring frequently with a long wooden spoon, bring mixture to a boil. Continue cooking and frequently stirring until it begins to pop or spit; reduce heat to low and stir and scrape bottom of pan to keep it from sticking or scorching. When it is thickened and starts to pull away from pan, about 45 minutes, it is done. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in olive oil or butter. Serve immediately with sauce, gravy or grated cheese or transfer to bowl or container, cover and chill until set. When ready to serve, cut into pieces; toast or grill; then add any canapé topping or spread you desire.

Creamy Polenta with Three Cheeses

Creamy Polenta with Three Cheeses

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups milk

2 cups water

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄₃ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1⁄₃ cup shredded fontina cheese

1⁄₃ cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: Prepare basic polenta (above) according to instructions but use 3 cups milk and 2 cups water. When polenta is done, remove from heat and stir in the butter and cheeses while it is hot enough to melt them. Serve immediately with pot roast, stew, chili, tomato sauce or on its own with a crunchy green salad.

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms

 

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 recipe for basic polenta, chilled and cut into 2-inch by 2-inch squares, toasted or grilled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

¼ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

12 ounces fresh baby portobello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons dry white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried

½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Melt butter with olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and parsley and cook until onion is opaque, about 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms. garlic, wine, and sage and cook, stirring a few times, over medium low heat until mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, salt and pepper, stir, and remove from heat. Spoon over toasted polenta squares and serve hot or warm with wine or cocktails.

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