Very scary things have been said about polenta. It is pasty. It needs to be fussed over or it is all lumps and bumps. It burns if you so much as glance at it wrong.
But here is the secret. It has to be stirred. And this cannot be hurried. That is it.
It knows what it needs. And what it needs is an hour to be ready. So do not rush it. Making polenta is mediation by way of cornmeal.
I felt this needed to be discussed for a few reasons.
One. Because I had an early dinner with my brother a few weeks ago and the man revealed he has yet to latch on to the right polenta recipe. Since he owns my great grandmother’s hand crank cavatelli maker, and actually uses it, I can assure you his polenta void is not for lack of wont.
Two. Because at said dinner at a trendy-new-restaurant-which shall-remain-nameless, we had a side of farro that was barely passable. Sad and pale and bored. Like a New Englander trudging through March. And this should simply not be the case for Italian grains that require so little to taste delicious.
Three. Because I recently visited Misty Brook Farm and have fallen for their Early Riser cornmeal, which they also feed to their pigs and chickens. And I hope this balances out some of the implied elitism when I say it is organic, meaning it is a non-GMO rarity and is from a local farm.
Any food that is fed to both farm animals and humans can't be too highbrow. In fact, I hope we can come to live in a world where people say, “If it’s good enough for the pigs, it’s good enough for me.”
During my research, I also stumbled across this quote from an online garden supply store about using Early Riser: “Chickens will produce eggs with deep golden yolks, cows love it, and it makes a high quality cornmeal for us humans as well.” Now, cows are not technically built to eat corn. But that aside, it is ground so fine and delicate that it makes the creamiest polenta known to man.
But you still have to stir it.
So do your dishes while it gently bubbles on the stove. You see, the key is stirring, and patience. This makes a high quality polenta for us humans, as well.
Early Riser Polenta
- 5 cups water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional, to taste
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- Black pepper, to taste
In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the water to a simmer. Add the salt and then slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Continue to whisk until any lumps dissolve.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the cornmeal for about an hour, stirring regularly to prevent any lumps from forming. The cornmeal will bubble occasionally. If it starts to sputter and splatter, turn down the heat.
The polenta is done when it is creamy and has reduced roughly by half. (It should not taste floury or raw, if it does, cook it longer.) Stir in the butter, cheese, and crushed red pepper. T
Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve hot.
Makes about 3 cups
- I have made the recipe with standard yellow polenta (typically medium or coarse ground cornmeal), as well. (You can find Early Riser at Misty Brook Farm.)
- If your polenta is looking too dry, add in a drizzle of water.