question about polenta
I've made this recipe numerous time, and have always used the prepared polenta roll, as recommended in the recipe:
Forgive a stupid question, but if I wanted to make polenta from scratch, how much would I need to make, and how would I substitute it for the roll - chill it in a loaf pan and slice it?
You can loosely roll your polenta on a piece of plasic wrap and pull the plastic wrap against the pressure of your hand or against the edge of a small cutting board, pastry cutter, etc.
Then just chill it and use it as you would use the commercial variety. Your recipe uses a one pound roll so you'll need to prepare a one pound roll (or a bit more). I'd start with about 12 ounces of meal and cook it in the traditional way, adding liquid as needed. Polenta is somewhere around a 4:1 ratio so 12 ounces of meal should take about 3 - 4 ounces of liquid which is close enough for the recipe you're using.
The 4:1 ratio is 4c of water to 1 cup of corn meal.
That 4c of water weigh about 2 lb. So half of this would give you plenty. But I'd go ahead an make the 1c of cornmeal, and only use half for this recipe.
An alternative to forming the roll is to spread the mush on a baking sheet, or even in a plastic storage container. If spread thin enough you can simply cut squares or rounds (like you would biscuit dough). If cooled in a thicker layer, you can cut slices.
Cutting slices from a neat roll will look nice in some presentations, but when covered with beans and chili as in this recipe, the shape of the pieces does not matter much.
I would use 1 cup polenta (or good cornmeal) and 4 cups of water. Honestly, I probably wouldn't even cool it down to cut into shapes. Once it's thick, spread a layer in your casserole dish, do the layering, repeat, and then bake until the other ingredients are heated through.
You can put some parchment in a loaf pan with it extending a few inches...pour the hot polenta into the pan and allow it almost set...then take it out of the pan with the parchment and roll it like a cake roll ( in the paper) to desired length and thickness. Refrigerate in the paper until ready to cut...
The volume of a dry cup and liquid cup is essentially the same. The dry one is designed for scooping and leveling, the wet has extra 'freeboard' to prevent spilling. There is also a effect of the meniscus, but at the 1cup size that minor.
The ratio isn't exact. More water gives a looser mush. Also as you cook the corn it absorbs more water. I've gone as high as 5:1 with a long double-boiler cooking. Typically I start at the lower end (even 3:1) and add water as it cooks and gets stiffer.