Ask a group of Italians how to cook polenta andyou'll soon discover that the cornmeal porridge which might have left you unconvinced in the past, not only incites passion but also a multitude of recipes.
In fact, the cornmeal comfort food that hails from the Roman era and once fed peasants in Northern Italy, is enjoyed by Italians in a surprising number of ways.
From soaking up ladles of rich rabbit stew in Bergamo to sat on melted gorgonzola in Lombardy and from Venice's refined white polenta with fish to the much-loved polenta taragna made with cheese, it all depends on which part of the country you're eating this famous dish.
From creamy and liquid to strong enough to stand the spoon up in, cooking polenta is as much about reflecting a sense of culture and history of a place, as it is a traditional Italian dish.
So, forget the bland and tasteless wallpaper paste you might have been subjected to in the past, and instead explore the hidden depths of this unctuous comfort food, which takes both time and love to prepare.
Types of Polenta
Firstly, not all polenta was created equal. In fact, the corn ground meal comes in different grades and colours.
Typical polenta is coarse ground and yellow. However, there's also finely milled polenta that yields a creamier result when cooked to the coarser whole grains that produce a more granular finish, perfect with a hearty stew. Or there's also white polenta for a change.
Then, of course, there's instant polenta and pre-cooked polenta, which, are probably best left at the back of the cupboard, especially if you want to impress your new Italian friends.
How long to cook polenta
Cooking polenta is where the love and dedication come in - traditional polenta can take anywhere up to an hour to cook, depending on the coarseness of the grains.
For traditionalists, polenta is cooked in a copper polenta pot, although a standard cooking pot can be substituted. The polenta is put into boiling water or milk with regular stirring which breaks down the starch until a smooth consistency is reached.
Polenta Recipe Ideas
Start by cooking your own polenta and discovering the satisfying notes you can reach with lashings of butter and cheese. Here's a recipe to get you started with a basic traditional polenta.
Polenta is also an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be used as in many different ways, from savoury to sweet, and pizza bases to cake. Here are 10 other ways to cook polenta.
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