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Instant Polenta

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Back when I began making polenta, I was worried that the stuff requires some exotic or specialized cornmeal, so I picked up a box of instant polenta at the Italian deli (in meal form, not those funky polenta logs). It tasted pretty good.

Over the years, I've made a lot of instant polenta, and played all the fun polenta games (mushy or firm? fried or grilled? cheese?), and it still tastes pretty good. In fact, better than most of the polenta I get at restaurants. So, the questions are:

1) Am I so wrong?

2) How significant is the quality difference between "instant" and "traditional?"

3) Does traditional polenta require any special corn meal, or can you just use the same stuff you buy for cornbread? And, do you still just hang out and stir, or is there some technique?

4) While we're on the subject, any favorite treatments?


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I've always used regular old corn meal, stirred slowly for a very long time. I actually enjoy making it- there's something very relaxing about it. I once tried it in the microwave, according to Christopher Kimball's directions in The Cook's Bible, which was a major disaster.

As for favorite preparations, I like it roasted with olive paste and mozzarella. Or just fresh with cheese.

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I'm from Illinois.

My Italian Grandmother would cook chicken in tomatoes until

it not only fell off the bones, it seemed to start to dissolve them.

This was medium hot with red and black pepper, and served

over polenta. We wolfed it.

Any left-over polenta was cut into circles with a cookie cutter

and fried for breakfast - with Karo syrup.

I will always be corny.

Once, in a pinch, I made polenta with masa harina.

It looked weird, but tasted ok. But, then, i'm a "cornaholic".

BB

edit - im -> i'm


Edited by Big Bunny (log)

Food is all about history and geography.

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1) Am I so wrong?

No. If it tastes good, it is good. Unlike instant grits or instant oatmeal, instant polenta still seems to have the taste left in, and to not have chemical crap added to it to "flavor" it.

2) How significant is the quality difference between "instant" and "traditional?"

That may depend on the brand, and on your cooking skill.

3) Does traditional polenta require any special corn meal, or can you just use the same stuff you buy for cornbread? And, do you still just hang out and stir, or is there some technique?

I think the grind is coarser than for making cornbread. I've got some from Bob's Red Mill that is a lot coarser, almost like grits. But I've used regular cornmeal and it still worked well; in fact it was easier to cut up when cold.

As when cooking grits, I do NOT stir constantly. Even so often I dip a wooden spoon into the bubbling lava and give it a swirl. But all the time? Feh. Got to use a nice heavy pot, though.

4) While we're on the subject, any favorite treatments?

Anything with gravy (both standard American AND Italian-American kinds) and anything without gravy. I love polenta, too. :biggrin:

Big Bunny: that last bit sounds like the time I made gnocchi with semolina flour (oops).

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Am I so wrong?
No. If it tastes good, it is good.

Agreed! If you like it, you go guy.

I make polenta often and lots of ways, but my current favorite way to make basic plain ol' polenta is one cup of coarse cornmeal and 4 cups of salted water or chicken stock or canned low salt chicken broth. It was really good with the broth I made from the goose carcass. Something that I do differently than most directions is to whisk in the cornmeal in the beginning, not waiting until the water or liquid has come to a boil. I have less lumps this way. Then once it has boiled I turn it down to low and cover it, and stir frequently but not continuously. Topped with some shaved Parm-Reg and some fresh thyme and/or rosemary is good.

Some ways I like to jazz it up are roasted garlic polenta, polenta with white cheddar cheese and fresh herbs, polenta with mascarpone and roasted garlic, and of course polenta served with a sauce. Then there are times I add in butter, or cream, or Parm-Reg...

:smile:


Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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If you like it and it comes out great, go for it :)

I love polenta and have been thinking about purchasing some instant just for those evenings when I don't have a lot of time but have a taste for polenta goodness.

I love polenta all the ways mentioned, my favorite is making a medium polenta and top with a leek sauce made with butter, cream and milk. I don't eat it often since it is so fattening so when I do enjoy it, it is even that much better.


--Jenn

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I use instant polenta as well (an imported brand from Italy that cooks in about 5 minutes.) I like to make it w/ low fat milk, then finish w/ butter, Parmesan cheese, and a little grind of nutmeg. It seems to me that I read somewhere that most Italian families are now using the instant polenta almost exclusively. Hopefully someone who actually lives in Italy can tell me if this is true or not.

This is a perfect example of "shortcuts." Maybe my polenta would be a little-or a lot-better if I stood there and stirred it for 20 minutes, but it tastes good enough to me.

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I can assure you that almost all Italian families use instant polenta at home - even when they have the time to cook real polenta. The best "instant" brand is Valsugana which is in every store. It is quite acceptable quality-wise when you don't have an hour to cook your polenta on a week night after work.

I save the the real stuff for Sunday's when I have more time or when friends come from Friuli where polenta is a religion.

Without a doubt the real slow cooked polenta has a better texture and a richer taste.

I don't now anyone making either with milk - just water and salt.

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I went to a cooking demo by Ann Rosenzweig some years ago, where she did a dinner for Valentine's Day. One of the dishes she called "Southern Polenta" -- actually it was grits, cooked with cream. Maybe some whole milk, too. Not at all polenta of course, but wow, was it delicious.

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I'm from Illinois.

My Italian Grandmother would cook chicken in tomatoes until

it not only fell off the bones, it seemed to start to dissolve them.

This was medium hot with red and black pepper, and served

over polenta. We wolfed it.

My Nonna-in-law , God bless her, was landlady of two Chicago six-flats in Little Italy until the Lord saw fit to end her reign of terror on earth just after her 103rd birthday.

She and your Nonna must have swapped recipes. She made this one a week for eight-five years.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Maggie -

I'm from Joliet. I spent my early life with my Italian grandmother,

dairy maid from Piemonte, and German grandfather, steel-worker

from Essen, in an Italian neighborhood, which included Grandma's brother

and two sisters as neighbors.

My mother's family were coal miners, originally from Kentucky,

then southern Illinois, then up to Joliet.

Nobody liked anybody else, but they could all cook.

Grandma was born sometime in the late nineties, has been gone

for over thirty years now.

BB


Food is all about history and geography.

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Thanks, everyone, foor assuaging my guilt and adding to my store of knowledge. I'll try the traditional method next time I get a chance, and in the mean time, eat instant guilt-free.

My favorite recipe -- probably very inauthentic, from the Inn at Little Washington Cookbook -- is to sweat some garlic, add bay leaf and a dash off pepper sauce, use half milk, or cream and half water, and add grated parmesan in roughly the same quantitiy (before cooking) as the meal. Wonderful either hot and runny or chilled and refried (for breakfast!).


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Maggie & Bunny:

I was born and raised in Morris. Both my parents were from Joliet and, as a kid, I visited my grandparents in Joliet weekends.

My wonderful mother left us a couple of years ago at age 99. (She was a lousy cook, tho.)

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One trick I use when making polenta is to use the standard mixture (four cups water or broth to one cup polenta) but heat three cups of the liquid on the stove and pour the other cup cold in with the polenta. When the liquid comes to a boil, add in the wet polenta, which doesn't clump.

And Suzanne F, thanks for the info about instant grits. It's the only kind I can get locally and I wondered whether it was worth mail ordering the real stone ground stuff (from Hoppin John or somewhere similar in the south). Now I think I'll have to do that so I can taste the difference myself.


Check out our Fooddoings and more at A View from Eastmoreland

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stevea: my alabama-born brother-in-law fixes himself a packet of instant cheese-flavored grits every so often -- and this from a man who fancies himself a gourmet! :shock: I don't understand how he can eat that, forgive me, slop.

IMO, "instant" grain products are not made for people who have no time, but for people who have no taste. :angry: Get the real thing!

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I can get great quality stone-ground polenta here (Oregon), but not stone-ground grits (white corn). For those of you who have experienced both, is there a noticable difference (other than color) between the two?


Check out our Fooddoings and more at A View from Eastmoreland

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