Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

The joys of polenta


Recommended Posts

In yesterdays food section of the Tulsa World, the topic was fond memories of Polenta. It cracks me up when I hear people romanticizing this Italian staple. Basically, it is the cheese grits I grew up with in northwest Florida. And the Italians did not have grits until after the discovery of the new world. My favorite question to ask polenta snobs is if they have ever had grits. It is amazing how many would not dare to try them. My Granny made her's with fresh cream and yellow cheese. They were great.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Italians didn't have tomatoes either!

My opinion about grits is the same as my opinion about polenta: most examples are terrible -- they're just gruel. But when they're good, they're good.

I'd be interested in a taxonomy of cornmeal. I notice there are about a million different kinds but I don't really understand the key distinctions.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to post
Share on other sites
In yesterdays food section of the Tulsa World, the topic was fond memories of Polenta.  It cracks me up when I hear people romanticizing this Italian staple.  Basically, it is the cheese grits I grew up with in northwest Florida.  And the Italians did not have grits until after the discovery of the new world.  My favorite question to ask polenta snobs is if they have ever had grits.  It is amazing how many would not dare to try them.  My Granny made her's with fresh cream and yellow cheese.  They were great.

The Italians ate polenta before the introduction of corn, it was just polenta made from other grains. I like mixing Sobrino's farina per polenta with the farina made from saracenean grain. A good corn farina per polenta should smell like corn when you open the bag, not dusty flour.

regards,

trillium

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'd be interested in a taxonomy of cornmeal. I notice there are about a million different kinds but I don't really understand the key distinctions.

For the purposes of polenta, I think the key point is the grade of the grind (coarse v. fine). Ever try to make a decent polenta with fine ground cornmeal? Not very good, in my opinion.

My grandmother used to sub grits when she couldn't get the proper grind of cornmeal (back in the day). Not the same taste, exactly, but a better approximation of the texture she was after.

The same holds true for other 'flours or meals' (chickpea or gram being the one I'm experimenting with right now). I'll post my version of panizza/farinata/panelles once I've made the final adjustments. Basically, the fine ground of most available chickpea flour is the reason the recipe hasn't translated as well when outside Italy. I'm experimenting with grinding my own - something I've just realised my grandmother had done all along. Would be interested in others' opinions/experiences about this....

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'd be interested in a taxonomy of cornmeal. I notice there are about a million different kinds but I don't really understand the key distinctions.

I'm with Fatguy on this. I grew up eating grits, and my thought when I had polenta was, "Hey! These are like grits!" That said, I didn't think they were identical to grits, just similar. I still feel that way.

If you asked me why, I think I'd tell you polenta is a different type or grind of cornmeal than grits are, but I'd be hard-pressed to go into more detail than that. I could tell you, though, that, in my mind's eye, polenta is usually yellow and grits are normally white (till you add cheese, anyway) and that polenta always seems to be made of discrete grains no matter how creamy it is, while grits are more often a less distinct mass of smooshed grains.

edit: rearranging words to better represent thoughts

Edited by fimbul (log)

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If you asked me why, I think I'd tell you polenta is a different type or grind of cornmeal than grits are, but I'd be hard-pressed to go into more detail than that.

Hey, we posted the same thought at the same time - make a wish! :smile:

You're right about the difference - I think it's something to do with the processing of grits (lime?) - probably someone on here will know more.

Also, full germ v. de-germinated makes a big difference when you're trying to use cornmeal for making a bread starter - but that's going a bit off topic....

Link to post
Share on other sites

I had some very interesting polenta the other night. It was cut into diamonds instead of the traditional triangles, and then deep fried just long enough to get a crisp crust on the outside, without browning much at all. Of course it still tasted like not much of anything until you used it to soak up the sauce from the duck it came with.

Does anyone ever make grits into cakes to grill or fry like this, or are they always served soft? Was the triangular cake just something the Italians came up with to make yesterday's left over polenta more appetizing?

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

Link to post
Share on other sites
Does anyone ever make grits into cakes to grill or fry like this, or are they always served soft?

I know *I've* made fancypants triangles from grits before, and I'm sure I must've stolen the idea from somewhere. :biggrin:

Seriously, though, I know a lot of folks fry their leftover grits, and I've seen a few examples of grits squares, diamonds, and triangles a la polenta. It's done, though because it's usually polenta you find in more "serious" restaurants, it's usually polenta you find all gussied up as hearts, clovers, and horseshoes.

Hey, we posted the same thought at the same time - make a wish!

All righty, I'm wishing right now as I type. But if I'm not independently wealthy by the end of the week, I'm going to be so disappointed. :wink:

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Mmmm, grits. Mmmmm, polenta. Just call it gritlenta. The difference here is that I serve "polenta" when I have an Italian-themed meal. I serve grits the rest of the time. Many low-country specialties have a grits component.

I make grits/polenta/corn mush soft and thick. Fried and baked. It's an interesting thickener in some stews. I make it with cheese, butter, cream and any combination of the three. I scent it with different aromatic herbs. Bacon and other cured meats are always good. It takes well to tomatoes, the dried variety, too. Mushrooms are excellent with grits. Grits alone may not appear to be exciting, but well made with a thick pat of butter. T'ain't many better ways to start a day, unless you have some red-eye gravy to go with that.

The one thing I like about making gritlenta is that I almost always have someone else make it for me. It's as simple as it gets, but it needs fairly constant attention.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

Link to post
Share on other sites
I make grits/polenta/corn mush soft and thick. Fried and baked. It's an interesting thickener in some stews.

I recently used grits (along with some manchego cheese) to stuff jalapenos which I then dipped in flour, then egg, and fried. It was a fun experiment.

Grits are fun.

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Corn meal tutorial for FG...

Corn meal is made from either processed or unprocessed corn. Processed has been soaked in an alkaline solution (lime from heated shells, wood ashes in the olden days). Somehow the ancient tribes in Mexico figured this out. What happens is the niacin that is normally bound up in other molecules is released and available nutritionally. The use of unprocessed corn for grits or polenta (in the southern US and Italy respectively) experienced an epidemic of pellagra. Pellagra is a disease of niacin deficiency. What we call grits now is usually "hominy grits", hominy being the term for alkali process corn... also known as posole in Mexico.

The other distinction for corn meal is whether or not it is degerminated. Degerminated corn has that little pip at the bottom of the kernel removed. That is where most of the oil is so the resultant meal will keep longer since there is no oil to go rancid. This is the typical insipid crap you get in the grocery store from the major brands.

Now you get to color... Yellow, white, and newly fashionable blue. I, for one, can't taste much difference.

Next comes grind anywhere from coarse sand to flour-like consistency.

Grits - Processed, white or yellow, coarse grind. I think polenta is the same thing in that they learned that you have to process the corn to get the nutritional benefit. (Pellagra was once a big problem in Italy where the poor ate the stuff as a staple of the diet.)

Cornmeal (like for corn bread) - Typically not processed, typically degerminated, any grind, any color.

Stone ground cornmeal - "Stone ground" usually infers that the germ is left in. Theoretically, stone mills don't generate as much heat so the germ can be left in. This is the stuff you actually want for cornbread.

Masa Harina - Processed, fine grind, usually a pale yellow. Used for tortillas, tamales and other goodies.

All of the above is made from a variety of corn, sometimes called "dent" or "field" corn. Not the sweet corn that we usually eat. Actually, having had dent corn on the cob from street vendors in Mexico, doused with lime juice and chile powder, I have to say it is really makes our sweet corn taste insipid. I mean that stuff tastes like CORN. It has a nice chew also.

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

Link to post
Share on other sites

Fifi, Thanks for the lesson. Stuff I never knew, and now that I do I am glad.

Most of the commercially available grits are terrible. Instant grits are incredibly terrible. It is the good stuff from mills like Hoover in Alabama and War Eagle in Arkansas that I enjoy. The War Eagle grits are very coarse, take longer to cook and have a flavor. Where are there other mills producing quality grits?

My Granny only used Jim Dandy yellow grits. Her recipe passed with her in 1969. I can only come close. I do not know what brand of cheese she used. Plus, she churned her own butter.

And my other Grandmother always made extra so she could fry them up to go with supper. Is supper a southern thing? or do people in other regions have supper also? Or do they just have dinner? Which was only on Sunday when I grew up. It was the meal eaten right after church. I would guess that this is the origin of 'Dinner on the Grounds'. Considering the time of the meal.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Do any of you do a cheese grits souffle? In my family we cook the grits in chicken stock and half & half, add rosted garlic puree, lots of cheddar cheese, then fold in beaten egg whites to lighten. This is great as a leftover but you cannot saute them. When we do this we do regular cheese grits or polenta. Another great source for cornmeal is the Clemson Univ. Dept of Ag. also good cheeses.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I make grits/polenta/corn mush soft and thick. Fried and baked. It's an interesting thickener in some stews.

I recently used grits (along with some manchego cheese) to stuff jalapenos which I then dipped in flour, then egg, and fried. It was a fun experiment.

Grits are fun.

This sounds damn good. You had me with the Manchego, corn and jalapeno combo. Totally ballsy trio for kicked up bar food. Nice.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you havn't eaten polenta in Friuli you have not eaten polenta. They make a polenta with a delicate, creamy texture that can't be matched. It is not at all the texture of the courser texture of grits. Blave di Mortean, from Friuli, is the best polenta I have found, it is very finely ground with almost a powdery texture.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If you havn't eaten polenta in Friuli you  have not eaten polenta. They make a polenta with a delicate, creamy texture that can't be matched. It is not at all the texture of the courser texture of grits. Blave di Mortean, from Friuli, is the best polenta I have found, it is very finely ground with almost  a powdery texture.

Do you know if this is the imported polenta that they sell at "zingermans" (sp) in Michigan?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Grits are fun.

But didn't Craig Claiborne say: "Grits is good. I eat it every day"?

I once went to a cooking demo by Anne Rosenzweig, who cooked grits in half-and-half. Mmmmmmmm. And yes, dlc, I've done the cheese-grits souffle thing. Might have gotten it off the Quaker package?

Just made polenta last night (Bob's Red Mill brand, coarse grind). The directions they give say to cook it for 30 minutes -- that's pretty normal. But the odd thing to me was that in the directions for serving it as cereal, you're only supposed to cook it 5 minutes. Wouldn't it be too watery still, and too chewy?

Link to post
Share on other sites
If you havn't eaten polenta in Friuli you  have not eaten polenta. They make a polenta with a delicate, creamy texture that can't be matched. It is not at all the texture of the courser texture of grits. Blave di Mortean, from Friuli, is the best polenta I have found, it is very finely ground with almost  a powdery texture.

Do you know if this is the imported polenta that they sell at "zingermans" (sp) in Michigan?

sorry no - do you know the producer. I am not familiar with Zingermans.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I make grits/polenta/corn mush soft and thick. Fried and baked. It's an interesting thickener in some stews.

I recently used grits (along with some manchego cheese) to stuff jalapenos which I then dipped in flour, then egg, and fried. It was a fun experiment.

Grits are fun.

This sounds damn good. You had me with the Manchego, corn and jalapeno combo. Totally ballsy trio for kicked up bar food. Nice.

Thank you! I'm flattered.

I need to try it again with more manchego. The one flaw in my scheme was that I underestimated the amount of cheese I'd want.

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anyone tried the Helene Darroze polenta recipe in the NY Times a few weeks ago? It's quite good. Wild mushroom sauteed in pancetta topped with a creamy mascarpone polenta mixture. I'm trying to modify it right now as preliminery trials yielded a rather bland polenta but great mushroom topping.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I just remembered a great grits/polenta thing that my great aunt used to make when I was a kid. Actually, she called it corn meal mush but it was cooked the same way. She made it rather thick. After it cooled, she would form it into these round, flattened "cakes" about 3 inches across and about 3/4 an inch thick. These were then fried until golden brown. For some reason we called them "bump-bides". I have no idea where that came from. They were served as a side dish with ham and greens maybe, or for breakfast with cane syrup.

If we had a big fresh ham or some other hunk of pork to roast, she would trim the fat (it didn't come pretrimmed in those days), make cracklin's, mix the cracklin's in, and then fry them in the rendered lard. That was our favorite.

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

Link to post
Share on other sites

This looks like an appropriate place for one of my favorite food-oriented poems:

SONG TO GRITS

When my mind's unsettled,

When I don't feel spruce,

When my nerves get frazzled,

When my flesh gets loose --

What knits

Me back together's grits.

Grits with gravy

Grits with cheese.

Grits with bacon,

Grits with peas.

Grits with a minimum

Of two over-medium eggs

mixed in 'em: um!

Grits, grits, it's

Grits I sing --

Grits fits

In with anything.

Rich and poor, black and white,

Lutheran and Campbellite,

Jews and Southern Jesuits,

All acknowledge buttered grits.

Give me two hands, give me my wits,

Give me forty pounds of grits.

Grits at taps, grits at reveille.

I am into grits real heavily.

True grits,

More grits,

Fish, grits and collards.

Life is good where grits are swallered.

Grits

Sits

Right.

-- Roy Blount, Jr.

:biggrin:

Those who do not remember the pasta are doomed to reheat it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
:laugh::laugh::laugh:

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...