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Aug 1, 2011 07:29 AM

Polenta -- clue me in!

I've come to believe that sometimes the idea of a particular food is far better than the reality of it. Such was my experience yesterday, when I attempted to make polenta for the very first time. I've had polenta only a few times, and I can't say I've ever been smitten with it. But a couple of months ago I saved a photo and recipe for leg of lamb served over polenta from Food and Wine magazine -- it looked so delicious -- and since I was making a grilled butterflied leg of lamb, I decided it was time to try the polenta. Here's a link to the recipe:

Maybe it was the recipe that left me disappointed. Since there were just two of us, I halved the recipe in the magazine. Maybe you just can't do that with polenta, but since I've done it quite successfully with risotto, I thought it'd be safe to do it with polenta, too.

I used imported (Moretti brand), coarse (not instant) polenta. The original recipe called for 1 cup of polenta, 4 cups of water, 1 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1/2 cup of mascarpone and 1 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano. I measured half of each of those ingredients precisely and followed the instructions. What resulted was a rubber-like, gloppy, tasteless concoction, flavored only by the Pecorino Romano, that was anything but "creamy and tender" as described in the recipe. Maybe I overcooked it. Maybe halving the recipe required an adjustment to the cooking time. I didn't cook it for as long as the recipe indicated (which was about 45 minutes in total) because it looked like it was drying out.

So while the IDEA of polenta still intrigues me, I think I need to be sold on its virtues. When it's done right, is it really delicious? How do you make it interesting and flavorful? Is it worth trying again, or should I just toss the rest of the contents of the package of polenta? Thanks for your advice.

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  1. Check B Kafka 'Microwave Gourmet' book. She shows many ways to make polenta for firm, soft, gooey, whatever, for me no fail, ever.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      Kafla's polenta in the microwave is the only recipe I use. It is no fail and there is no standing and stirring.

    2. All that cheese and mascarpone sounds like overkill. Done right, polenta is creamy, smooth, and a little "corn-y". Maybe give it one more shot. Here's a recipe I like. You could sub cream or half and half for the evaporated milk.

      Creamy, Cheesy Italian Polenta

      -1 1/2 c. evaporated milk (full fat) [1 regular can]
      -1 1/2 c. 2% or whole milk
      -1 c. of water + 1/2 tsp. of chicken Better Than Bullion OR 1 c. chicken broth
      -1 c. dry polenta
      -1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan Reggianno cheese
      -salt and pepper, to taste

      In a large saucepan, bring the milk, evaporated milk, and broth to a boil. Off heat, whisk in the polenta. Return the pan to the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the polenta has thickened and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 10-15 min. (depends on whether your polenta is "quick cooking").

      Stir in the grated cheese, salt, and pepper, and serve immediately. Alternately, you can spread in an 8x8-in. of 8-in' round pan and let sit until set, then cut into wedges and grill (oil the grates).

      1. I have many different ways to make it from labor intensive to stupidly simple....and *yes* it does taste really wonderful to me :)

        You might really enjoy just the simplest preparation too. Just follow easy or package directions for baked polenta (in a square pan). Then cut into squares and top with cheddar cheese and salsa of your choice. Serve with a salad (and a big margarita!) and you will see how nice polenta can be :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: sedimental

          We usually make just 1/2 recipe of it in a 8" square pan. Salsa sounds good, but sometimes I'll use my homegrown tomatoes for a fresh tomato basil sauce for it. By itself, polenta can be a tad boring.

        2. I agree with taking out the bells and whistles and get a basic recipe down maybe with a little parm added, then get more elaborate from there.

          A simple polenta can be truly glorious. It's not a dish that I tend to think about a lot this time of year though.

          1. for starting to make polenta, I would use a ratio of up to 1:7 polenta to liquid. You can use less, and don't be afraid to add more liquid. I use 1-2 TBS butter, melt with the liquid. I usually use a mix of chicken broth and a dairy or two, milk cream, half and half, depending on what I have around the house. Bring to a boil (probably not milk) then slowly add the polenta on low heat while stirring constantly. Then you have to stirr frequently to constantly for 30-45 mins, the coarser the grain, the longer you need. I finish with salt, a little parm, and a pat of butter. For all that, polenta is very plain tasting. I use it as a base for some sort of savory dish with a bit of sauce--osso buco, short ribs, sausage and tomato, etc. I would not eat it plan, because it will be bland, as a whole meal.

            you can definitely use different techniques and less stirring, etc. Also, I use Bob's Red Mill, and not the most coarse, because it takes longer to cook.