Rich, creamy, versatile, and highly addictive. Polenta done right, will become your new favorite comfort food for those nights when you want to spoil yourself and those around you. One of the great qualities of polenta is that it goes with just about everything; chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish, and all by itself for a fantastic vegetarian meal. Polenta is something you can play with and make it your own. Keep it simple as side, or dress it up and make it the star of the plate. It can be baked, fried, cut into crispy little cakes or served smooth and creamy. You can sauce it, stuff it, layer it, sandwich it, serve it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch. It's the Forest Gump of corn! Limited only by your imagination, creativity, and what you have in your fridge and pantry, polenta will be your new best friend in the kitchen. And did I mention that it is really easy to make? Well it is, it's super cinchy once you learn a few tricks. The one thing to remember is that it takes time to do it right. It's not something you can whip up in five or ten minutes, unless of course you're using the instant variety, but I haven't found any of those that are worth the calories so I don't mess with them.
Through trial and error and experimenting with countless recipes I now make perfect polenta every time. I'll share with you two techniques that although very different will achieve the same delicious results. The first is the traditional long, slow cooked method, it takes at least an hour, requires frequent stirring and makes a sticky mess in the pot. The second version gets it's start in the morning before you head out for work then takes about 15 minutes to finish up when you get home. It's from Maria Speck and found in the Food 52 Genius Recipes Cookbook. The secret is that you 'pre-soak' the polenta for at least 8 hours, (overnight or before you leave for work) which shortens the actual cooking time to about 15 minutes. You'll have amazing slow cooked, traditional polenta in a fraction of the time, it's Genius!
Starting with the polenta itself, for everyday cooking I like Bob's Red Mill Polenta (Also known as Grits). Americans call it grits, Italians call it polenta. Bob's is easy to find in most supermarkets and I think its a good product for the $$. There are gourmet brands such as Anson Mills and Moretti, they're wonderful but you'll probably have to order them online and they can be a lot pricier.
I prefer a medium to coarse ground for basic polenta, there is also a fine grind which is great for cakes, and there are yellow and white varieties as well.
A few tips:
1. Maybe because Colorado is so dry, but I increase the amount of liquid by at least a cup or more. The worst that can happen is that the polenta will need to cook a little longer, which won't hurt it at all. Most polenta recipes are a ratio of 1 cup of polenta to 4 cups liquid, I find the polenta becomes firm long before the grains have fully cooked and the flavor has not developed. I use at least 5 cups of liquid sometimes more depending on how much time I have. With Bob's polenta I always need more liquid, other brands may not be the same. But the longer it cooks the more flavorful it becomes so it's more of a time issue rather than a quality issue.
2. I like to use a ratio of 1 cup polenta, 3 cups water, 1 cup good quality chicken broth and one cup milk, you can also use heavy cream if you like it really rich. (Don't be afraid to add more liquid if needed!)
3. If you're using the traditional long slow cooking method, once you've whisked the polenta into the boiling liquids turn the heat way down, so low that the polenta simmers like an old volcano, one or two bubbles at a time, then stir occasionally. I use a cooking spray which helps with clean up because the polenta does make a sticky mess in the pan.
4. You'll know if your polenta hasn't cooked long enough if you add butter and cheese at the end and it becomes runny and soupy, it means the grains have not soaked up enough liquid.
If this happens the fix is to let the polenta continue cooking until it's reached the desired consistency. (If you use the Genius method this won't happen).
Experiment and have fun, there are so many ways to enjoy this wonderful comforting food and I'm sure you'll create a favorite go to version that will become a staple in your kitchen just as we have in ours.
Click on or copy and paste the links below to your browser for printable pdf recipes for each cooking method.
Basic Polenta: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/81103778/Blogs/Basic%20Polenta.pdf
The spring buying and selling season is just around the corner, are you thinking about buying or selling your home this year? Call or email me with your Real Estate questions. I promise, no one will work harder for you than I will and I would love to help you.
Becky Goldsmith - Broker, GRI, CNE
Selling Colorado Real Estate since 2001