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|Place of origin||Northern Italy, Central Italy, France, Switzerland|
|Main ingredients||Yellow or white cornmeal, liquid (water, soup stock)|
|Cookbook: Polenta Media: Polenta|
Polenta (Italian pronunciation: [poˈlɛnta]) is a Central European dish of boiled cornmeal rather popular in Northern Italian, French, Croatian and Swiss cuisine. It may be consumed hot as a porridge or allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf, which is then baked, fried, or grilled.
As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge), commonly eaten since Roman times. Before the introduction of corn (maize) from the New World in the 16th century, polenta was made with such starchy ingredients as farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, and chickpeas.
Historically, polenta was served as a peasant food in North America and Europe. The reliance on maize, which lacks readily accessible niacin unless cooked with alkali to release it, as a staple caused outbreaks of pellagra throughout the American South and much of Europe until the 20th century. In the 1940s and 1950s, polenta was often eaten with salted anchovy or herring, sometimes topped with sauces.
Polenta is typically simmered in a water-based liquid with other ingredients. Ingredients can also be added later once the polenta is done. It is often cooked in a large copper pot known in Italian as a paiolo. Boiled polenta may eaten as it is, or it may be allowed to set, then baked, grilled or fried. Leftovers can be used the same way. In the Trieste area, it is eaten after the Venetian tradition with cuttle fish and tomato broth, with sausage following Austrian influence or with cooked plums following an ancient recipe. Some Lombard polenta dishes are polenta taragna (which includes buckwheat flour), polenta uncia, polenta concia, polenta e gorgonzola, and missultin e polenta; all are cooked with various cheeses and butter, except the last one, which is cooked with fish from Lake Como. It can also be prepared with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, such as small songbirds in the case of the Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei. In some areas of Veneto, it can be also made of white cornmeal (mais biancoperla, then called polenta bianca). In some areas of Piedmont, it can be also made of potatoes instead of cornmeal (polenta bianca as well).In the westernmost alpine region the maize is sometimes added with local grains, barley and rye (polente bâtarde or polente barbare ), and often frichâ, toasted on a loza (thin refractory stone).
The variety of cereal used is usually yellow maize, but buckwheat, white maize, or mixtures thereof may be used. Coarse grinds make a firm, coarse polenta; finer grinds make a creamy, soft polenta.
Polenta takes a long time to cook, typically simmering in four to five times its volume of watery liquid for about 45 minutes with near-constant stirring, necessary for even gelatinization of the starch. Some alternative cooking techniques are meant to speed up the process, or not to require supervision. Quick-cooking (cooked, instant) polenta is widely used and can be prepared in a few minutes; it is considered inferior to polenta made from unprocessed cornmeal and best eaten baked or fried.
In his book Heat, Bill Buford talks about his experiences as a line cook in Mario Batali's Italian restaurant Babbo. Buford details the differences in taste between instant polenta and slow-cooked polenta, and describes a method of preparation that takes up to three hours, but does not require constant stirring: "polenta, for most of its cooking, is left unattended.... If you don't have to stir it all the time, you can cook it for hours—what does it matter, as long as you're nearby?" Cook's Illustrated magazine has described a method using a microwave oven that reduces cooking time to 12 minutes and requires only a single stirring to prepare 3 ½ cups of cooked polenta, and in March 2010 presented a stovetop, near-stir-less method, using a pinch of baking soda (adding alkali), which replicates the traditional effect. Kyle Phillips suggested making it in a polenta maker or in a slow cooker.
Cooked polenta can be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks, and then fried in oil, baked, or grilled until golden brown; fried polenta is called crostini di polenta or polenta fritta.
In popular culture
Polenta is a staple of Northern Italian cuisine and its consumption is traditionally associated with lower classes, as in times past cornmeal mush was an essential food in their everyday nutrition.
- Oxford English Dictionary 3rd edition, 2006, s.v.
- Dubreuil, P.; et al. (2006). "More On The Introduction of Temperate Maize into Europe: Large-Scale Bulk SSR Genotyping and New Historical Elements" (PDF). Maydica 51: 281–291.
- Zeldes, Leah A. (2010-11-03). "Eat this! Polenta, a universal peasant food". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2011-05-18.
- "Polenta - How to Cook Polenta". mangiabenepasta.com. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- Buford, Bill (2006). Heat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 150. ISBN 1-4000-4120-1.
- Kimball, Christopher; Yanagihara, Dawn (January 1998). "The Microwave Chronicles". Cook's Illustrated: 11.
- Kimball, Christopher (March 2010). "Creamy Parmesan Polenta". Cook's Illustrated.
- "CI creamy polenta". Chowhound. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- Kyle Phillips. "Polenta: Making it at Home". Retrieved 28 January 2007.
- "La storia della polenta" [The history of polenta]. I primi d'Italia (in Italian). Retrieved 31 January 2016.
- Giorgio V. Brandolini, Storia e gastronomia del mais e della patata nella Bergamasca, Orizzonte Terra, Bergamo, 2007. 32 pages.
- Eynard, W., La Cucina Valdese, Claudiana, 2006.
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