Saturday, February 14, 2009

One of the things I am always looking for in BentoLand are tasty items that can be served room temperature. One delicious option comes from Italy, in the form of polenta. Cooked to firmness, fried or grilled, and then either topped or eaten plain, it is a filling and tasty alternative to rice or a sandwich.

Aside from it's obvious charms, another thing that converted me to polenta was learning an easy, hands-off method of cooking. It's as simple as can be, plus it can be prepared the night before, cooled, and cut into shapes, grilled, or what-have-you at your leisure.

When I found this method, it really took a leap of faith. But since I was turned off by the idea of standing over a pot of splattering cornmeal (almost as much as I was turned off by those tubes of pre-made polenta in the grocery stores), I decided to give this method a try.

And am I glad I did!

This no-stir method produces fabulous results - creamy and voluptuous, plus the hands-off method leaves you free to make the stew, greens, or whatever else you are having with it.

Types of Polenta
Very soft polenta: 6 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of grits, best served in a bowl with the toppings of your choice.

Soft polenta: 5 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of mashed potatoes, works in a bowl, or as a bed for stews.

Firm polents: 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. When warm, it's like a thick pudding and can be used as a bed for stews, or cooled and sliced into wedges to fry or broil and serve with toppings.

Very firm polenta: 3 to 3 1/2 parts cornmeal. This is the type of firmness like you see in pre-made polenta, made primarily to cool and slice.

Basic Polenta Recipe
1 cup medium-coarse or coarse cornmeal
3 to 6 cups water (or half water, half milk)
1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 tsp salt more to taste

Heat oven to 350. Grease a 3 quart ovenproof skillet, preferably non-stick. Pour in the cornmeal, water, milk (if using) butter, and salt, and stir until there are no more dry clumps. The mixture will separate. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir the polenta, taste, add salt if needed, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for 10 minutes.

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