polenta, soft and basic

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creamy, easy to make. polenta is basically cornmeal mush (but oh so very good mush, if you make it correctly). it's a finer-ground version of grits.

do buy whole-grain and not degerminated cornmeal, finer and not the texture you want (also, the process of degermination removes the perishable but more flavorful "fat" of the grain). whole-grain, a coarse-grain cornmeal, is cheaper in the Hispanic markets. if you can't find it there, you should be able to find the more expensive polenta meal next to the other "Italian products", like grated parmesan, or in the "natural foods" section in the regular supermarkets.

goes well with roasted vegetables:

Roasted Fennel & Carrots

Roasted Glazed Carrots

yields: about 3 cups of polenta
5-8 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
special equipment
heavy-bottomed saucepan
wooden spoon
1. in the saucepan, whisk together 4 c of water, cornmeal and salt and bring to a boil, whisking the whole time to ensure no lumps form. keep whisking until polenta starts to thicken, about a minute or two.
2. reduce heat to lowest heat setting until polenta is just barely simmering. cover the pot and cook very slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes, making sure you scrape the corners of the bottom of the pot where the mixture will tend to collect. cook until it starts to pull away from the side of the pan and the grain softens, about 25-30 minutes. adjust water according to how you want it: 3-5 cups for stiff cakes; 6-8 for slurpy mush.
3. when polenta has finished cooking, stir in the butter until melted and remove from the heat. salt, to taste, if needed. serve immediately.
as long as you cook in a heavy-bottomed pot, at a very low heat setting, you don't have to stand over the pot, constantly stirring. with the lid on, the polenta won't form a dry crust on top and just whirling every 10 minute with a wooden spoon suffices in keeping the lumps at bay.

if you have a slow-cooker, heard that all you have to do is toss ingredients in, whisking to make sure there are no lumps, turn it on and let it do it's thing. six hours later, you will have a low-labor creamy polenta. same as using a double-broiler (bain marie), which gives low, even heat.

for liquid, you can sub 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of vegetable broth for a richer flavor. or for a completely vegan dish, use 4 cups of vegetable broth and sub extra-virgin olive oil for butter.

after removing pan from heat, add cheese and/or herbs:
-add 2-4 oz of gorgonzola, depending on the potency of the cheese. the older, the more pungent and lethal.
-add 1/2 cup of parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated, to add more flavor.
-add 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese along with the parmesan to give it a more creamy smooth texture.
-add 1 cup of cream cheese for a very creamy, smooth flavor and texture
-add a few tablespoons of fresh herbs of your own choosing depending on the dish you will couple it with. basil-oregano for Italian dishes and rosemary-thyme for French dishes. 3 tablespoons for the milder herbs like parsley and basil. 1-2 for sage, thyme or oregano. 1/2 teaspoon for rosemary as it's pretty strong. add right after the polenta has finished cooking.

for cheesy grits add 1 cup of corn kernel to every cup of cornmeal along with a cup of milk after the polenta has cooked to tenderness with 3 cups of water. add 1 cup of cheese, like pepper jack, to finish it off.

if preparing ahead of time, keep polenta in a bain marie, covered tightly with foil, to keep it slurpy smooth. if you pour into a buttered dish or pan and let it cool down, you will be able to cut them into soft polenta cakes, 3-4 part liquid to 1 part cornmeal.

Cuisine   ItalianDish   Side Dish
Cooking Method   BoiledMain Ingredient   Rice/Grains
Prep Time   less than 15 minutesCooking Time   45 minutes
Features   Dairy-Free, Low-Calorie, Low-Fat, Low-Sodium, Vegan, Vegetarian, Wheat/Gluten-Free

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