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Your Favorite Way to Cook Polenta: Tips and Tricks


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it really struck me how thick and sticky it was ... the proverbial "spoon standing up in it" thick. it also struck me that it wasn't hard to make or even that time-consuming (especially when i only make it a couple of times a year). so why was i worried about finding a shortcut in the first place?

Work ethos? But not only.

My mother was born in the Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, where people are notorious polenta eaters. Families were bigger then, and stirring the sometimes large amount of polenta was men's work. (Today, in many Ticinese/Lombardian/Piedmontese villages, there is once a year the "Sagrada del Polenta", the "Polenta-Feast", where they cook stirred polenta in huge pots and serve it for free for everyone and every visitor, mostly together with "Luganighe", a kind of boiled salami).

The family table polenta was very thick and firm and served like a cake and was cut into pieces with the help of thread or a thin wire.

When I was a boy, my mother (though a business woman) took the time and prepared twice a week a thick, stirred polenta. She served it to me as she had it in her youth, hot in a large cup of cold, fresh milk. The milk was not homogenized back then, and large, unbroken fat globules (as described by Harold McGee on page 14) gave a wonderful, creamy taste on the palate. The mix of hot an cold and the toasty, firm polenta with and the creamy milk! I was an addict.

Grown with such memories, you can never accept an oven polenta as a true polenta. I mean, those Tuscans have really no idea about cooking :laugh:

Edited by Boris_A (log)

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Work ethos? But not only.

My mother was born in the Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, where people are notorious polenta eaters. Families were bigger then, and stirring the sometimes large amount of polenta was men's work. (Today, in many  Ticinese/Lombardian/Piedmontese villages, there is once a year the "Sagrada del Polenta", the "Polenta-Feast", where they cook stirred polenta in huge pots and serve it for free for everyone and every visitor, mostly together with "Luganighe", a kind of boiled salami).

The family table polenta was very thick and firm and served like a cake and was cut into pieces with the help of thread or a thin wire.

When I was a boy, my mother (though a business woman) took the time and prepared twice a week a thick, stirred polenta. She served it to me as she had it in her youth, hot in a large cup of cold, fresh milk. The milk was not homogenized back then, and large, unbroken fat globules (as described by Harold McGee on page 14) gave a wonderful, creamy taste on the palate. The mix of hot an cold and the toasty, firm polenta with and the creamy milk! I was an addict.

Grown with such memories, you can never accept an oven polenta as a true polenta.  I mean, those Tuscans have really no idea about cooking  :laugh:

:cool: Sounds wonderful. You're lucky to have such nice memories. And just for curiosity, do you make it often?

I was also lucky as a child, though without polenta. My working mother also used do home meals from scratch (excepting frozen veggies sometimes), even baking.

But without those memories, oven polenta tastes very good. And as I live alone usually, I'm not likely to make it the labor intensive way nearly as often. Braising season's on! I had a stew with polenta last night. Fried polenta today. Thanks again aged paesan's mother on a box -> Wolfert -> Parsons. :wink:

edited to repair a broken arrow :rolleyes:

Edited by Mottmott (log)

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I had a loverly slab of polenta fried in butter for lunch. The oven method sure works for me.

I did notice something, though. Someone needs to investigate the unusual heat retaining properties of fried polenta. That sthtuff never coolths off! *nurthing a thcorcthed thounge*

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I am hanging my head in shame. All y'all are so dedicated to making polenta so nicely, even when just for yourselves.

Although I do make polenta in the classic manner when preparing it for guests, when I make it just for myself I make it in the microwave.

It is tricky and one has to sit right next to it and be prepared to stir vigorously every couple of minutes but it comes out quite nice and unscorched which was a bit of a problem in the past....

When I am alone and start something like this I sometimes wander off and become involved in something else and forget all about it until I notice something in the air..............

This never happens when other people are around, I realize that there will be distractions and take steps to be sure I stay on top of things.

And it can't go down the garbage disposal. As long as there is nothing in it except water and salt, the miserable mess can go into the worm composting bin.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Fifi, a nice cold drink is the only remedy. :rolleyes:

Andy, be sure to give this easy method a try. Into the oven in a lidded heavy casserole pot, timer set, timer in pocket, and forget it til you hear the ping. It would be interesting to hear whether this works out as/more/less tasty than your microwave version. This makes it as easy to make as rice.

Timers are on my great inventions list.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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And just for curiosity, do you make it often?

Well, I'm a bit older now and a bit more pragmatic. Once in two months, maybe, or even less.

Today, I prefer something like Gnocchi alla Romana, a "polenta" made from wheat grit and slightly roasted in the oven and served with a bit garlic and fried, crunchy sage. It's better accepted by most of my guests.

But once a year, I'm the cook for a funfair stand. I take out my huge pot and my giant spatula and I make polenta for 400 servings in three days. Stirred, of course, because I don't own a dozen ovens. I'm using a glove to avoid blisters and I need physiotherapy afterwards to repair my right arm and a shrink to treat my masochistic feelings. :laugh:

And please, oven polenta is exactly as good as a stirred one. I'm just mentally blocked. :rolleyes:

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Well, I'm a bit older now and a bit more pragmatic. Once in two months, maybe, or even less.

Today, I prefer something like Gnocchi alla Romana, a "polenta" made from wheat grit and slightly roasted in the oven and served with a bit garlic and fried, crunchy sage. It's better accepted by most of my guests.

But once a year, I'm the cook for a funfair stand. I take out my huge pot and my giant spatula and I make polenta for 400 servings in three days. Stirred, of course, because I don't own a dozen ovens. I'm using a glove to avoid blisters and I need  physiotherapy afterwards to repair my right arm and a shrink to treat my masochistic feelings. :laugh:

And please, oven polenta is exactly as good as a stirred one. I'm just mentally blocked. :rolleyes:

Oh, I think you made it clear you weren't being judgmental, but instead demonstrating a sentimental and masochistic streak. :laugh: Maybe we need another "from scratch" thread.

edited to add: would you care to elaborate on the Gnocchi alla Romana?

Edited by Mottmott (log)

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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Work ethos? But not only.

My mother was born in the Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, where people are notorious polenta eaters. Families were bigger then, and stirring the sometimes large amount of polenta was men's work. (Today, in many  Ticinese/Lombardian/Piedmontese villages, there is once a year the "Sagrada del Polenta", the "Polenta-Feast", where they cook stirred polenta in huge pots and serve it for free for everyone and every visitor, mostly together with "Luganighe", a kind of boiled salami).

The family table polenta was very thick and firm and served like a cake and was cut into pieces with the help of thread or a thin wire.

When I was a boy, my mother (though a business woman) took the time and prepared twice a week a thick, stirred polenta. She served it to me as she had it in her youth, hot in a large cup of cold, fresh milk. The milk was not homogenized back then, and large, unbroken fat globules (as described by Harold McGee on page 14) gave a wonderful, creamy taste on the palate. The mix of hot an cold and the toasty, firm polenta with and the creamy milk! I was an addict.

Grown with such memories, you can never accept an oven polenta as a true polenta.  I mean, those Tuscans have really no idea about cooking  :laugh:

You are really making me homesick!!! I lived in Lugano for two years. I had some amazing polenta dishes in Ticino and Lombardy. My favourite was with wild porcini mushrooms and assagio.

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edited to add: would you care to elaborate on the Gnocchi alla Romana?

Opposed to the art of preparing potato gnocchis, this Roman version is just the right thing for cooks who want to achieve max pleasure with minimal effort. (The potato gnocchis are a science for itself, at least for me (potato type, flour type and such things. I enjoyed such airy, fluffy, melting potato gnocchis in the Piedmont, that I stopped to make them. It was too embarrassing).

As I said, a polenta made by wheat grit (?)/seminola (?).

Exactly the same blues like like the polenta but with 1 cup of seminola instead of cornmeal, but then I choose 2 cups of pure chicken stock instead of water (and let's not forget the cup of milk). And this time stirred (seriously :smile:), because it's done in 20 minutes and you don't need that much strength. And it should be not that thick/firm.

When finished, let it cool for three minutes (to avoid coagulating of the egg) and add an egg and 2 oz. of parmigiano. Skim (?) it on a flat baking plate, an inch thick, maybe a bit less. Let it cool and put it in the fridge if you dont' use it within 2-3 hours. Cut it in rectangles (maybe 2 x 1 inch or somewhat smaller). That's the Gnocchis.

Now prepare crunchy, fried sage together with a bit finely chopped garlic in some foamy, slightly hazelnut browned butter. I'm very cautious and I do the garlic separately to avoid any brown or even burnt garlic.

Now layer your Gnocchis in a gratin mould and then layer some butter flakes with some parmigiano (but not too rich!) and some sage/galic mix and then again a layer of gnocchis and so on, maybe for three or four tiers. I do it rather pyramidal to attain more surface, because now I place it in the oven at gratin heat and keep it there for 30-40 minutes until there's some golden browning. Serve.

More than once when a brought this thing to a party, the mould was virtually looted within minutes and I should have brought along printed recipes. If people have only a slight inclination for Italian food, they simply cannot resist.

Edited by Boris_A (log)

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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You are really making me homesick!!! I lived in Lugano for two years. I had some amazing polenta dishes in Ticino and Lombardy. My favourite was with wild porcini mushrooms and assagio.

Hello Swisskaese!

Then you know it all.

The grotto, the polenta, the wild porcinis and the glas of merlot del Ticino.

My mother lived there in Vico Morcote (just above Morcote at the tip of the Luganese "peninsula"), if you know that place. She ran a tiny osteria there for a while, the "Böcc" in Vico.

Salutoni!

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Hello Swisskaese!

Then you know it all.

The grotto, the polenta, the wild porcinis and the glas of merlot del Ticino.

My mother lived there in Vico Morcote (just above Morcote at the tip of the Luganese "peninsula"), if you know that place. She ran a tiny osteria there for a while, the "Böcc" in Vico.

Salutoni!

I am not familiar with your mother's osteria, but I am very familiar with Vico Morcote. I lived in Viganello.

Salutoni!

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cakewalk: "In the meantime I like it, but I don't quite get what people think is so great about it."

Don't worry. It was really a poor people's dish for decades. Some friends of mine outright refuse to eat this "hen's feed".

Oh I have no qualms whatsoever about eating a "poor people's dish."

This morning I had the leftover polenta for breakfast. I had divided the leftovers into muffin tins. (I think someone here recommended that? Good idea.) So I fried them in butter until brown and crispy on the outside, and then sprinkled fresh parmesan on top. Very very good this way. But I still need to play around with it. I used the double boiler method, which seems to be a compromise between the stovetop and the oven methods.

It is interesting that nearly everyone seems to have some sort of emotional association with this food, and that association has such an influence on how you react to it. I can understand. I don't have it with polenta, of course, but I react pretty much the same way toward anything that is made with beets, especially borscht, because they remind me so much of my grandmother.

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  • 3 weeks later...
this is a very good no-stir polenta that i learned from paula wolfert (hi paula!). many years ago i did a series of tests and this was the only shortcut that offered a really deep, toasted flavor.

2 quarts water

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups coarse-ground cornmeal

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced parsley

Combine water, salt, cornmeal and butter in 3- to 4-quart oven-proof saucepan. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 20 minutes. Stir polenta and bake 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and set aside 5 minutes to rest before serving.

note - if you halve the recipe, the time should be reduced to 45 minutes.

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this is a very good no-stir polenta that i learned from paula wolfert (hi paula!). many years ago i did a series of tests and this was the only shortcut that offered a really deep, toasted flavor.

2 quarts water

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups coarse-ground cornmeal

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced parsley

Combine water, salt, cornmeal and butter in 3- to 4-quart oven-proof saucepan. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 20 minutes. Stir polenta and bake 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and set aside 5 minutes to rest before serving.

note - if you halve the recipe, the time should be reduced to 45 minutes.

Atually I did mine at 1 hr 20 min in an LC casserole, lid on (total). Turned out great.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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  • 1 year later...

Bumping this up because I have recently made the best oven cooked polenta that I have done . . . ever. As many of you might know, we are having an eG Spotlight Conversation with Sara Moulton this week. A couple of weeks ago I took her recipe for Creamy Baked Polenta out for a trial run. Note that Sara graciously allowed us to include this recipe, from her new book Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals, in RecipeGullet.

This recipe is a winner. I made it in my little 2 1/2 quart Le Creuset. I used some medium grind whole grain cornmeal, Bob's Red Mill brand. It was about the only whole grain that they had at my local grocery. I also used Boar's Head brand aged provolone. The method was faster and gave a good toasted flavor. I could maybe say that the toastiness was due to my little magic Le Creuset. :raz: But, I don't know about that. Anyway, the recipe just worked.

I was a little worried when I went to do the stirring after 40 minutes. There was all of this liquid in the center and sort of a crust along the sides and bottom. But, with a few whacks of my small whisk and the last 10 minutes in the oven, all was well.

The provolone is now my favorite cheese for this dish. And I can envision several variations on the recipe. But I think I will adopt the method.

I didn't take any pictures because polenta is damned hard to photograph and make it look good. I probably should have photographed the nicely browned squares that I sauteed in butter the next day. That is the first time I have been able to do that without ending up with a pan full of mush. :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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that is a great recipe. it's an adaptation of the one from the back of the Golden Pheasant brand bag--added cheese. that's nothing against sara, certainly. in fact, i did a piece on this in 1997, trying to track down the source. as i recall, i'd heard about it from paula wolfert, who had heard about it from michelle anna jordan, who, as i recall, had gotten it off the bag. i think we've all done our twists on it.

it's a great recipe with one drawback--it doesn't scale up easily and the polenta is so good it barely makes enough for 3.

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When the other oven methods came up before, I was intrigued and tried it. Then Sara's version was faster and really really good. You are right. I would expect that it wouldn't scale up well. But I am not entirely convinced. I am wondering if I used my big Le Creuset (9 1/2 quart) if it might not work. I am thinking surface area to volume ratio. Anyway, I am usually cooking for one, maybe two, so I might not get to test that any time soon.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm planning a menu that involves a crispy polenta base topped with a mushroom ragu then some sliced duck breast (or goat cheese for the vegetarians). For about 30-40 people. Any tips on cooking polenta for a crowd?

If my only intention for my polenta is to chill it and slice it for frying, is there any difference in the recipe or technique? Is it best to use a sheet pan or a loaf pan? If I use a loaf pan, how many slices would I get from a loaf pan? How much polenta does it take to fill a loaf pan?

I'm planning to do a trial run in smaller quantity this weekend, since I've never cooked polenta before, but I know that things can go weird when you size up recipes, so I'm looking to avoid unexpected pitfalls. Any help/ advice is appreciated!

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40

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I'm planning a menu that involves a crispy polenta base topped with a mushroom ragu then some sliced duck breast (or goat cheese for the vegetarians).  For about 30-40 people.  Any tips on cooking polenta for a crowd? 

If my only intention for my polenta is to chill it and slice it for frying, is there any difference in the recipe or technique?  Is it best to use a sheet pan or a loaf pan?  If I use a loaf pan, how many slices would I get from a loaf pan?  How much polenta does it take to fill a loaf pan? 

I'm planning to do a trial run in smaller quantity this weekend, since I've never cooked polenta before, but I know that things can go weird when you size up recipes, so I'm looking to avoid unexpected pitfalls.  Any help/ advice is appreciated!

Tammy, no advice on quantity or anything, but upthread (post 55), Linda talks about the baked method of Sara Moulton's. There's a link to the recipe in RecipeGullet in Linda's post, too.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Tammy, no advice on quantity or anything, but upthread (post 55), Linda talks about the baked method of Sara Moulton's.  There's a link to the recipe in RecipeGullet in Linda's post, too.

From the conversation, it sounded like the baked method probably didn't produce something with the right texture for chilling and grilling. But now that I read it again, it looks like that's not the case, since Fifi references nicely browned squares the next day.

This would certainly be easier. I'd have to do multiple batches, of course, but I assume I could bake them all at the same time.

Anyone want to weigh in on that idea?

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40

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I don't see why you couldn't put more than one pot in the oven at a time. To make a bunch of squares for frying, I favor the sheet pan idea. I had just enough leftover to fill an 8x8 pan about 3/4 inch deep. It chilled to a nicely firm consistency that came out of the pan clean. If you do it in a loaf pan, most of the surface will be cut surfaces and may not hold together as well during frying. I would also suggest that you use the biggest non-stick pan that you can get your hands on so that there is enough space between the pieces for good browning and easy turning.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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