Leave it to the Italians to be able to make an elegant dish out of corn meal mush. And leave it to the Americas, to provide the raw goods to make it possible. Polenta and mush are made from corn which is native to North and Central Americas. Inexplicably, its home continents are the places where polenta is least known. Now that’s something that needs fixing.
Fortunately, we seem to be in a crucible of food evolution where all manner of alimentary staples and produce are being viewed with new thoughts to preparation and consumption. Some of this new experimentation comes out of our new awareness of the dietary impact of gluten, some are a by-product of simply wanting to live and eat in a healthy, world-sustaining manner and some are driven by the desire to become vegetarian or vegan. To make less of a negative impact on the earth is surely an admirable goal. When it can be combined with a delicious meal, it is a seductive objective.
Like its cousins rice, potatoes, wheat and corn, grits and hominy, polenta is viable for breakfast, lunch, snacks, appetizers, dinner and even dessert. Gluten-free polenta can produce porridge and pancakes alike. It may be molded and baked, roasted, grilled, and baked into sweet cakes and confectionaries. It stands as a main dish or a side dish. Polenta may be spiced up in a robustly satisfying meal or soothed down as mild and comforting as a nursery food.
Chefs push more envelopes than those concerning flavor. They have made great inroads in the once long-cooking polenta process and reduced the required time and attention. Many of us shy away from anything classified as “instant”. A reaction to the less successful early efforts of the previous century for many staples. Techniques and processes are constantly honed and today there are instant polentas that produce beautifully creamy dishes. Like pasta, rice and couscous, polenta is a tasty, nourishing way to convey a cornucopia of vegetables to the mouth.
To our shame, we have no previous recipes on our website for polenta, which we will endeavor to rectify. Hopefully future columns will include it. We will investigate recipes for polenta pancakes, French toast, Orange Polenta Cake, the one dish tomato, and basil polenta and certainly grilled polenta drizzled with a fresh tomato sauce. We will start with today’s offering: Polenta with Mushroom Stew.