On Thursday of this past week I had to have a tooth removed. No, it was not because of bad oral hygiene and yes I do brush my teeth two to three times per day and floss fairly regularly. Actually I cracked the tooth some time back and it was not getting better. I had the dentist do a root canal last year, but it never worked. Now I guess I need to figure out if I should get a bridge or implant and what the heck the difference is.
In true fashion of my family, even though I just had a tooth pulled, had a huge piece of gauze in my mouth and I couldn’t feel half of my face, I was thinking about what I should have for dinner. Ice cream sounded really good, yogurt and pudding might do, then Nancy suggested polenta. Wow, great idea actually. I love polenta. It’s a super simple dish and can be spruced up many different ways. In fact one of the favorites in our household is to make a sugo, or meat sauce and serve it on top of creamy polenta with some vegetables on the side.
Meat sauce was out of the question on this occasion, seemed a bit much for my traumatized mouth and I didn’t really have the time or the desire to make something that would take too terribly long. In fact I was having second thoughts as I drove into the parking lot of Whole Foods about the time it would take to prepare proper polenta.
My grandparents on my mothers side are from Sicily and if I’m going to cook Italian food I like to do it right. I’ve never used instant polenta, but I hear it works fine. In fact it might be a good place to start for anyone who wants to get their feet wet. I like the huge level of satisfaction that comes with preparing polenta, standing at the stove and stirring and watching the dish for 30 or 40 minutes. I suppose you could even cook it for 60 minutes on super super low heat, but that is even too much for me. The end result is well worth it. The texture is creamy and smooth, so much more than the instant polenta I have eaten.
Howard McGee says “long cooking at the stove develops the corn flavor by the constant application of higher than boiling heat to the pot bottom and the exposure to air and drying that takes place at the surface.” In his book “On Food and Cooking” he also mentions “busy cooks can develop just as much flavor with less labor by partly covering the pot of just-thickened polenta, putting it into a low over 250 degrees, which heats the bottom and sides in a controlled and even way, and stirring only occasionally.” If you try this, or already have please post a comment and let me know how it works.
The key to making polenta is the pot you use. It must be a high quality, heavy bottomed number or you will have trouble keeping the grains from burning. We have a Le Creuset 5.5 quart round Dutch oven. Yes it was an investment at $200, but it has been worth every penny. In fact we use it almost every day for something.
So here I am, half my mouth is numb and I’m hoping that nobody will recognize me in the store because I can barely talk, mouth full of gauze, and I can’t smile at anyone because when I do only one side of my mouth works. It is scary to say the least. In fact I was looking at myself in the mirror before going into the store and the only way I looked presentable was if I keep my lips securely pressed together. haha. I was fortunate enough to get in and out fast. I picked up some medium ground yellow cornmeal (use medium or coarse), some Gorgonzola cheese from Italy and some heavy cream and I was ready to go.
When I got home I popped one of the pain pills the doctor prescribed and I got to work. It was going to be just Randy and I because Jacob was out with a friend for dinner and Nancy was catering a wedding rehearsal dinner.
Polenta & Gorgonzola (serves 4)
- 6 1/2 cups of water
- 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 2/3 cups of medium or coarse yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, cut into small cubes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Add salt and bay leaves to 7 cups of cold water in a medium pot and then stir in polenta. Some recipes will have you whisk in the polenta once the water is boiling, forget it, this is easier and you will not have lumps!
Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, until polenta thickens and pulls away from the bottom of the pan, 30 or so minutes. You can walk away for a minute here and there, go to the bathroom, etc. Just make sure it doesn’t burn and stick to the pan. Turn off heat add cream and Gorgonzola and stir until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowls and serve.
Other Possible Ways to Prepare
Instead of using water to cook the polenta, you can substitute a few cups of chicken stock or whole milk. This will make it creamy. If you want to make grilled polenta cook the polenta until it is thicker.
You can make the polenta into a gratin. Omit the cheese and the cream. After it is done cooking pour it into a buttered baking dish that will give you a layer about 1 inch high. Top with a cup, or more, if you like, of grated Parmesan cheese and broil until the cheese is melted and is slightly browned. You can then cut into squares and serve hot or at room temp.
You can grill it, again make sure it is fairly thick when you cook it. Omit the cheese and cream. Pour the polenta onto a board or into a pan. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes, can be longer, then cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. When ready to cook, brush with some olive oil and grill or fry with a little salt and pepper or brown them in a pan after heating up some olive oil.
You can also top the polenta with a meat sauce or a tomato sauce. In fact there are a zillion things you can do. Please share some ideas!