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Old 05-24-2017, 07:46 AM   #1
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The art of making polenta

The thread on ossobuco prompted me to post this. I refer to it as an art, because there are certain techniques for making a good polenta that are well worth learning, and it's also well worth the effort.

Corn, or what we call sweet corn, or corn on the cob, was originally introduced into Europe by Christopher Columbus, so it's been around for a long time. Initially it was used solely for animal food, but a chef called Castore Durante mentioned in his book Herbario that it was also being used by peasant farmers. It caught on very quickly because it was easy to cultivate and quickly overtook the use of barley, corn, millet and other lesser used cereal products.

Jumping forward several centuries, maize became popularly cultivated in northern Italy and particulary around Milan and westward. Without going too much into the science of the best grain size of maize for human consumption, we take another jump forward. In Italy, the Bramata type of maize is favoured for making polenta. The best quality is golden yellow, stone ground with a fairly rough texture. I can't emphasise enough how vastly superior it is to the more convenient 'instant' varieties available on the market. I should imagine that in the USA there must be fine quality similar maize flour available.

Here is the recipe:

For 6 people:

500g best quality slightly 'grainy' maize flour.
1.8L water
10g coarse salt.
Quantities may vary according to the humidity levels in the flour itself, ambiente temperature and seasonal time of year.

Essential ingredients

Lots of patience, strong wrists for stirring and love of cookery.

Preparation time and cooking time: at least 1 hour, 1 1/2 hours better still.

Procedure:

First of all, get out a large heavy pan, preferably copper, and put the water in. Bring to the boil. This is where the hard work starts: First, put a spoonful of polenta flour into the boiling water. It will float. As soon as it starts moving towards the centre of the pan, salt the water, turn the heat down and start drizzling the polenta flour in, while stirring the water the while. As you do with your left hand, stir vigourously with your right hand, to keep the vortex moving, When you have put 3/4 of the flour in the pan,
Now stop stirring and rest for 2 minutes. Now, change utensil from a spoon to a wooden stirring stick, and you start counting the time down. From now on it's going to take 45 minutes at least. This is the stage that requires a little patience and practice. As you drizzle the rest of the polenta flour into the pan, you incorporate it, with the wooden spoon, and with a turning of the wrist, bottom to top of the pan so that the flour is evenly incorporated into the rest. DO NOT KEEP TURNING IT. Start by turning it every 5 minutes to start with and, as you go up to the final 15 minutes, so that it starts 5mins,7mins,10mins,14mins, and finally 15 mins. There is no doubt that this is a labour of love! But well worth the effort. Bear in mind that the polenta, at this stage, should not 'spit', rather 'gloop' gently. The sides of the pan will have polenta sticking, as well as the bottom. When the polenta is ready you will see that a crust will have formed around the sides and bottom of the pan. This is to be expected. This way it should be easy to turn it out of the pan.

Traditionally, polenta is served on a wooden board, and cut into portions. I'll post another message shortly to mention what main dish (braised meat, fish, etc) goes with what type of polenta, i.e. whether it should be creamier with one dish or firmer with another.

Finally, there's never any point in doing polenta for two! It's the stuff of having friends around, good company, good wine and a darn good evening!

di reston


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Old 05-24-2017, 08:38 AM   #2
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Good Afternoon Di Reston,

Absolutely, an amazingly exceptional recipe with exemplary well written instructions. Thank you very much for your fore-sights.

In all honesty, though I am a grand fan of Polenta, I have never actually prepared it at home ..

I have seen Morretti Spa Coarse Yellow Polenta Flour and Molini Riuniti Spa Coarse Yellow Corn / Polenta Flour here at the International Super Market El Corte Inglés and when I was in Milano for professional reasons, for a tour to Eataly, I had noticed a wide variety of corn flours ..

Which do you recommend ?

I am going to copy and paste your recipe. Thanks again ..

Have a lovely afternoon.
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Old 05-24-2017, 10:02 AM   #3
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It's not exactly a question of 'which one do I recommend' - I advise you to look, first of all, at the way the polenta has been milled. It should look like tiny granules, not microscopic ones, and you should be able to see a kind of 'speckled' look, and somewhat rough looking granules. Then check the pedigree - i.e. look for a polenta flour that's obviously been ground through a mill and that's all. It shouldn't look processed at all, just ground to the right consistency. That makes all the difference to the end result.

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Old 05-24-2017, 12:39 PM   #4
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Di Reston,

Thank you .. Shall do !

Understand perfectly ..

It certainly does make an enormous difference ..

Thanks again.
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Old 05-24-2017, 05:00 PM   #5
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Please forgive this "lazy cook" take on the subject of polenta. I've been making it in the oven for some time now with wonderful results.
It's well explained here...
Making Creamy Polenta With No Stirring - FineCooking
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Old 05-24-2017, 05:08 PM   #6
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I'm sure it's delicious made the traditional way, but I don't have the patience to do that. I never made polenta before I bought the Instant Pot multicooker (an electronic pressure cooker with other functions). It's yummy and done in 15 minutes of cooking time.
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Old 05-24-2017, 06:01 PM   #7
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I've always made it on the stovetop, and certainly never felt there was an "art" to it. It's much like making stone-ground grits. It just takes time and patience.
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Old 05-24-2017, 06:13 PM   #8
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"Maize Flour" to me means corn flour, which is not what you make polenta with ....
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Old 05-24-2017, 06:46 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jennyema View Post
"Maize Flour" to me means corn flour, which is not what you make polenta with ....
She's referring to coarsely ground cornmeal.
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Old 05-25-2017, 12:49 AM   #10
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I've been making polenta for a number of years. We think it's smooth and creamy. We enjoy it with whatever we pair it with. It never seemed to be as much of a production as this. 4 measures of liquid for every one of corn, plus extra on the side to add as it thickens. Huh. Guess I'll just keep doing it the un-authentic way.
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