One of my 2009 food goals was to learn to make and enjoy polenta. I wanted to make the Pancetta and Hominy Polenta http://www.chow.com/recipes/10867 as I figured anything with Pancetta can't be bad but I can not get my hands on the hominy today, is it essential, what flavors and textures would i be missing if I omitted it?. And how about a plain Polenta Recipe without any add-ins like the pancetta, would hounders mind giving me their tried and true recipes as I know plenty of people swear polenta can be great by itself.
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I had a lasagna made with polenta at a cute trendy restaurant in Vancouver before. It was essentially semilar ingredients for lasagna, but layered with polenta instead. I have tried it at home as well, and it works very nicely. Also excellent if you need to have a have gluten free dish for guests.
WE make it the old fashioned way stirring, etc. We pour the finished product on to a large slab of wood and spread it out (the length of our table). We serve it with many accompaniments - people add what they like:
~garlic sauteed broccoli rabe
~hand cut small pces of pork (from when we make sausages in Jan) that have been fried
~tomato sauce with homemade sausages in them (and ribs which are enjoyed later)
~sauteed wild mushrooms
~plain tomato sauce
~a boatload of grated parm is great on top
Sometimes we pour individual servings on to large platters per person. We just had this after the first snowfall over a month ago. Later this month, when we make our sausages, we will do it again; now I have a hankering for polenta.
We always pour some into a small, rimmed (oiled) cookie sheet and refrigerate. Next day, slice and fry in very little oil or grill. Top with fontina or left over toppings.
That chow recipe only calls for 1/3c of hominy. The whole kernels of corn add an interesting texture contrast, but don't change taste. They are rather like raisins in a pudding. Also that addition is an innovation, not anything traditional.
If you know how to make oatmeal or cream of wheat (or grits) you know the basics of making polenta. It is after all, just Italian corn mush. Actually Italians made polenta before they got corn; they just used other grains, or even chestnut flour.
Pouring the meal into the boiling water in a thin stream is just one way of minimizing lumps. Other ways include mixing the meal with cold water, and adding that slury to the hot, or mixing it with the cold water right at the start, and stirring enough.
The other trick to good polenta is to cook it as long as you can afford. Longer cooking with sufficient water produces a smoother polenta, as it gives the grains enough time to absorb as much water as they can. With an improvised double boiler I've cooked it for as long as 3 hrs, ending up with a 5:1 water ratio. I've gotten similar results using a pressure cooker (with a bowl inside the cooker), in much less time.
The other items in recipes just add flavor and richness. Simple polenta makes a good base for sauces and meat dishes (think of it as mashed potatoes). Stiffer polenta can be chilled, sliced and fried (or baked). Sweetened versions used to be common as supper and breakfast in poorer households.