Mixing bowl polenta

by Katie on March 4, 2011

Mardi Gras is in full swing around here and I’m still reeling from an amazing night of parades last night. In celebration of Mardi Gras, I’m going to make a plant-based version of a traditional New Orleans dish this weekend. Any guesses to what it will be? All will be revealed on Monday, with some of my favorite Mardi Gras parade photos too.

In the meantime, we have some unfinished business around here: namely, the polenta from Monday’s Tuscan mountain supper.

Polenta and grits are both made from cornmeal. Although some people might say there’s a difference, from what I can tell, the only real difference is that you don’t hear people talking about slicing grits into different shapes. Perhaps that means that in general, grits are made with a higher ratio of water to cornmeal (say, 4 to 1 rather than 3 to 1). But enough conjecture.

I usually have a grain component to my meals, and polenta (or grits, as the case may be) is one I enjoy including in the rotation. In the past, I’ve made polenta by simmering it for about 20 minutes, then adding a few things to doctor it up. I’m not convinced that it’s the best way to do it because it doesn’t get as creamy as I’d like (and I no longer use things like butter and cheese to help the creaminess factor along). But it does the job, and I’ll probably continue to make it that way when I want to cook polenta in a relatively short period of time.

As an alternative, I found a recipe for “cooking effortless polenta” in Lynne Rosseto Casper’s book, The Italian Country Table, which I referenced in my last post. She’s pretty insistent that simmering polenta for 20 minutes is not the way to go, “unless you like harsh, raw cornmeal mush.” Ouch. Instead, she recommends the double boiler method. While I typically don’t associate “double boiler” with “effortless,” I do agree that this way is pretty low maintenance and resulted in a polenta so creamy I didn’t need to add a stitch to it.

Of course, there is always a trade-off. Although it’s low maintenance, it does take 1.5 hours to cook. But honestly, if I’m going to be in my house for 1.5 hours anyway, I might as well have some polenta going. One advantage is that you don’t need any special equipment. You can make this with a large soup pot, a large stainless steel bowl, and some aluminum foil. So instead of calling this polenta “double boiler polenta,” I’m going to call it:

Mixing bowl polenta

Adapted from The Italian Country Table

Serves 6-8

Polenta keeps well, so I like to make extra for leftovers. The formula I used was 3.5 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal, so you can adjust how much you make accordingly. You could even experiment with using a bit more or less liquid. Again, you’ll need a large soup pot, stainless steel bowl, and a medium pot. Make sure the stainless steel bowl fits snugly into the soup pot with room enough at the bottom of the soup pot for a few inches of water.

Ingredients: 2 cups course-ground cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill) and 7 cups of water. Salt to taste.

1. Get 2 pots of water going. Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot with a little salt. Meanwhile, put a few inches of water in the bottom of the soup pot and bring it to a simmer.

2. Combine water + polenta. Place the polenta in the stainless steel bowl, and when the 7 cups of water reaches a boil, pour it (carefully!) into the polenta while stirring the polenta with a whisk. (Most recipes advise pouring the polenta into the water while whisking, but I’m trying to save you from washing an extra dish here.)

3. Play mad scientist. Place the bowl with the polenta into the soup pot and cover tightly with foil. Stir occasionally (after the initial 5-10 minutes, once every 20-30 minutes would probably be fine) and cook for 1.5 hours (even up to 2 hours if you’re hard core like that), adding salt to taste, and replenishing the simmering water in the soup pot if necessary.

For your leftovers, you can pour the polenta into a casserole dish and put it in the fridge, and it will firm up. Then you can cut it into slices or rounds or whatever fun shape strikes your fancy and grill, sauté, or reheat it in the oven.

Possible variations include using vegetable broth instead of water and switching out some of the water for non-dairy milk. I imagine doing either of those things would push this one over the top, so if you try it, I’d love to hear how it works out. I was glad to come across this technique, although I’m sure I’ll keep experimenting with both the mixing bowl method and other approaches. I’ve heard you can even bake it in the oven. How do you like to make polenta?

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