I hadn’t had real polenta before I went to Italy to learn how to cook. It was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero where I was completing my internship. I had maybe had it once or twice there, not really thinking much of it. But, when I had Easter dinner at the home of one of the chef’s parents, only then did I grow to love it! It was served as a side to a large pan of roasted goat (first time with that too). It was plain, made with water and probably a touch of salt and olive oil. However, when topped with roasted goat and the juices from the pan, it was something that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if it was the ambiance of being at a traditional Italian dinner as really the only one who spoke English, and NOT Italian. Or, if it was the few glasses of wine. Regardless, that was one of the most unforgettable meals of my life, and it was amazing in it’s simplicity.
The polenta was dumped from it’s pot out onto what I think was a large cutting board set behind the table, where we spooned our servings from. This method of serving porridge, as if it was the highlight of the meal, was what really stuck out to me.
Polenta is a traditional staple ‘peasant dish’ of Northern Italy who’s origins pre-date ancient Rome. It has become quite popular in the culinary world and can even be found in some of the worlds best restaurants. Throughout my time cooking, I had always been intrigued by traditional cuisine, mostly regional Italian, and the history behind food preparation and the ingredients. The focus on quality and simplicity is why it’s so interesting to me.
Most people would overlook this as a source of starch/ carbohydrate for meals. However, it is extremely versatile as it can be cut and grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted or broiled after it has cooled from it’s creamy porridge consistency. A half cup serving provides roughly 15-20 grams of carbs (depending on the ratio of liquid used) and pairs really well with meat and fish, or even as a stand-alone side. Some recipes call for boiling the coarse cornmeal in a mixture of water and milk (my favorite) with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt. Typically, you’d use a 3:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal for a soft consistency. Top with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and good quality olive oil for a tasty side dish.