What is Polenta? It’s as Italian as pizza!
Polenta is a self-proclaimed second national dish of Italy, second only to pizza. What exactly is polenta you ask? It’s a coarsely ground maize that can be prepared in a number of ways and is a staple in my Nonna’s kitchen. Although not as glamorous as spinning pizza dough in the air, polenta has humble roots in Northern Italy where the lesser off would cook up the simple and versatile grain in a variety of ways dating all the way back to ancient Roman times. As history progressed, polenta become a staple food source of the peasantry class given how cheap it was to produce, its tastiness and texture as well as a good source of energy and nutrition. As times changed it continued to be considered second class food through the wars and turmoil that went on in Italy during the 1900s. Perhaps it was the best kept secret of the peasantry class, who didn’t want the aristocrats to find out how delicious polenta really was :)
However, polenta has gotten its much needed revival because this little grain is tasty and there’s no denying that! Polenta is typically boiled with milk, water or stock until it becomes a thick paste. Once it’s boiled and thickened, it can be sliced, baked, fried or grilled depending on the dish. It’s common to find tender meat, vegetables or tomato sauce spooned over grilled polenta. My favourite go-to savoury polenta recipe is simple: the polenta is cooked and grilled and then topped with roasted veggies. And although it’s a great side dish for many savoury meals given its pleasant but subtle flavour, many people also cook up a creamy polenta for dolce before bed. There’s something comforting about a sweet creamy polenta dessert cup just before hitting the hay. Every time we’re over Nonna’s for dinner, she will try and get the grandchildren to join her for a creamy polenta fruit cup before bed. I tend to always accept, especially in winter time when a creamy polenta dessert is the ultimate comfort food.
Creamy Polenta Dessert Recipe
Ingredients – Serves 2
2 cups milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup chopped fruit such as cherries or berries
1. Combine milk, water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a near boil. Be careful not to scald the milk, otherwise the polenta will taste burnt.
2. Once the liquid is almost boiling, whisk in the polenta and smooth out any lumps. Simmer, partly covered, for 10 to 20 minutes until polenta is creamy. You may need to add more milk at the end to get the right consistency.
3. Divide into two bowls and top each bowl with ½ the honey and fruit to finish.