Second to pasta, one of Italy's favourite dishes is polenta, especially in the northern part of the country around Aosta and Friuli. Polenta is made from yellow cornmeal, and has experienced a steady rise in popularity and now featured on restaurant menus worldwide. Polenta is so easy to make and can be combined with almost anything, and is extremely cheap ( it was once a peasant food). Polenta is also gluten-free, which makes it a great alternative for people with allergies.
Here are my cooking tips and polenta recipes so have a go :)
Start with the basics
All you really need to make good polenta is yellow cornmeal ( fine to medium-grained), water and salt. A stock or broth can be used in place of water, and butter or Parmesan can be added for a richer flavor.
To make a softer polenta, the ratio of water to polenta should be about 3 to 1. For a firmer polenta, use less water.
Polenta is really versatile and not just an accompaniment to meat dishes. Try using various cheeses (Parmesan, Pecorino even Gorgonzola), vegetables (peas, aubergine, zucchini, mushrooms, or others), freshly shaved truffles (or truffle oil or truffle butter), meat (especially offal or pork), seafood (prawns, shrimps, squid, etc), or just simply butter or a good quality olive oil.
All you need is a large pan and a wooden spoon. In Italy, a large copper pot known as a paiolo is used, but isn't necessary to make good polenta. Any large pan will do – the heavier the better, to prevent the bottom burning. The other most important piece of equipment is your wooden spoon. Like risotto, polenta requires a lot of stirring to smooth lumps and avoid burning, so a good long-handled wooden is a must.
Try slow-cooker polenta
The traditional way to cook polenta is to boil it in water or stock until it thickens. But if time is an issue, you can use a slow-cooker. Just add the water and polenta to a slow-cooker and let it cook on low heat for about 6 hours, stirring every hour or so. Slow-cooker polenta is probably the creamiest polenta ever. As a rule, the longer it cooks, the creamier it will be.
Serve it many ways
Polenta can be served either soft or in a firmer form. To make it firmer, all you have to do is pour the prepared polenta into a baking tray or flat container and let it cool. It will firm up nauturally. However you make it, polenta can be served as a side dish or a main course. It can be topped with loads of sauces, meats, cheeses or herbs. If you make it firm cut it into polenta chips/ fries which taste great with a dipping sauce.