Monday, August 11, 2008

Podium Worthy Polenta

Are you enjoying the Olympics? In keeping with the Olympic theme of meals around the world, tonight’s culinary adventure honors the Italian athletes competing in the 2008 Beijing Games. As I write this, Italy can boast 3 Gold Medals, 3 Silver Medals, and 2 Bronze Medals in the areas of Fencing, Judo, Archery, Cycling, and Shooting. Athletes with names such as Maria, Giulia, Marco, Giovanni, Margherita, Mauro and more have stood on the podium to receive their world recognition. I just love these names …especially because I have relatives who boast the same ones!

I'm a star spangled girl that boasts an Italian heritage (notice how I manage to squeeze that fact into just about every post? ;-D), so preparing an Italian meal was a piece of cake. My roots are Southern Italian and so tonight we dined on food that would feel right at home on my relatives’ tables. Our gold medal meal consisted of a lovely Parmesan and Pecorino Polenta topped by a marvelous Meat and Mushroom Ragu. Accompanying those star performers was sliced Italian Sausage that was first poached and then pan grilled. Green beans with a delicate butter garlic sauce rounded out the meal.

Before I begin, let me just ask you a quick question. Do your pots and pans all fit nicely on your stove top? As my children get older, I’ve been slow on the uptake in figuring out that I need to be preparing larger portions for my own little Olympians. Now that I’ve finally stepped up to the podium, I find that I’m using all four burners on the stove for every meal. Sometimes the pots and pans fit nicely, other times not so much. I have an electric stove with the standard 2 small – 2 large burner set up.

Inevitably, I need 3 large burners and one small. *Sigh* I still regret not getting that gas line run and getting a gas stove. This one may be pretty to look at, but a) I’ll never get a black topped stove again, and b) I prefer stoves where the control panel is across the front, not in the back where I get to singe my arm whenever I adjust the temperature! My old stove was a stainless drop in and very easy to clean. This one is both black and stainless, and the black shows every little speck of everything. See the ragu splatters on the back control panel? I do use the grill year round, and that frees up the burners, but I don’t grill every night and so I need to get creative here. My family won’t eat casseroles (you know … because the food touches), so that is out. I take advantage of the crockpot, too, but don't want crockpot meals all the time. My cooking comfort zone is using the cooktop. I think about my friend Marjie and how she literally manages to prepare meals for her family of 11. As I rearranged and shoved and rearranged my fridge to accommodate a week’s worth of groceries, I remembered her post where she showed how she fits in all the food to feed her gloriously large family. I fear that I covet her kitchen! How do you juggle cooking on your stove/cook top?

Back to tonight’s menu. I adore polenta and can pretty much make it in my sleep. The homemade version is infinitely better than the ready made stuff, and doesn’t really take long at all. I’ve seen recipes where they want you to cook it for 45 minutes stirring constantly or some such thing. Who has time to do that? Here’s how I was taught to make it. Now you, too, can enjoy this yummy golden goodness in about the same amount of time as it would have taken to make pasta.

Paula’s Podium Worthy
Parmesan and Pecorino Polenta

2 ½ cups of milk (I use 1%)
½ cup of cream
½ cup of chix broth or water
1 chicken bouillon cube (yeah, I know it’s like a salt lick, but it works here)
2 Tablespoons butter
Dash White Pepper
Dash Season Salt
Dash Garlic Powder
Dash Onion Powder
1 heaping cup of Corn Meal (Yep, just regular yellow corn meal works great here)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

In a 3 qt non-stick sauce pan, combine the milk, cream, broth or water, bouillon cube, butter, pepper, seasoned salt, and garlic and onion powders. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Watch it carefully when it starts to bubble because it will boil over quickly. As soon as it has reached a rolling boil, take it OFF the burner. Turn off the stove. Very slowly, WHISK in the corn meal. (Do not whisk in the cornmeal while the pot is still on the stove … it will bubble up and could splatter and burn you.) After it has been whisked in, stir in the cheeses. You can serve immediately - creamy style. If you want to cut out shapes as I did, you can pour it out to cool and firm up, and then you can cut into shapes.

If you want to cut out shapes, butter an oblong baking dish.

The bigger the dish, the thinner the polenta. Sometimes thin is good; sometimes thicker is good. I did thick.

Once you have buttered the dish, pour in your polenta.

Butter the back side of a spoon, and using the buttered side,

spread the polenta out evenly into the dish being sure to press down firmly.

Let sit for at least 10-15 minutes.

Try not to sneak a bite. I tried not to and, um, failed. Hey, I was …um … I was testing for seasoning. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just testing to make sure it was seasoned correctly.

Ahem. Moving on. The polenta will firm up as it sits. After waiting 10 minutes or so, cut into shapes. You can use a knife, a biscuit cutter, or as I did, a cookie cutter.

My kids chose the star shape in honor of the Olympic stars. Just press and release just as you would with cookie or biscuit dough. Cute, huh?

That’s it! In just beyond the time it takes to boil water, you could be having polenta instead. If you want fancy shapes, it takes just a little longer. I usually just spoon it up, but today was a special exception. And, feel free to jazz up your polenta. Do you prefer spicy foods? Add some hot red pepper seasoning. Want to create unique flavors … add a smokey cheese or pungent cheese like smoked gouda or gorgonzola. Polenta works great layered in casseroles, too. And, if you are lucky enough to have leftovers, you can fry it up in the morning to go with your eggs. Yum, yum, yum!

Yuuum! Talk about a star spangled meal! This Podium Worthy Polenta pairs well with just about everything, too. Veggie sautés, meats, poultry, fish, ragu’s, and plain ol' butter … they all go great with this. Try it and let me know what you think! And, as usual, this is gluten free all the way, baby!

Turn in next time when our culinary adventures continue with meal homage’s toward China, France, and more!


Jan said...

Would you believe I've never had polenta? I've led a sheltered
life. :-) But there's a first time for everything.

Esi said...

I have been meaning to try polenta since I have a whole bunch of cornmeal. This looks great!

Manggy said...

Hee, I love your description-- Podium-Worthy! It certainly looks like it deserves a gold medal :)

The stove here at home is a combination gas-electric (1 small gas, 2 large gas, 1 large electric) with the control panel at the side-- my dad designed our house, and he's smart to install tile behind it so everything can be wiped up no problem :) We don't use the electric hob. I use the one at the back (large gas) for stock and soup.

Can't wait to see the rest of your Olympic series!


not a bad thing at all to boast your italian heritage - you are much envied by many on that note!

i have exactly the same problem with my pots and pans - my kids are getting older, and i have to remember to cook a decent sized meal!

i've heard so many good things about polenta, that i really must make it one day - another new taste for me...

Katherine Aucoin said...

I wish I could design my own stove. People who make them obviously don't cook for hungry, growing children. I love polenta and yours looks awesome. I like how you cut it into stars; very unique idea. Send me the leftovers!

Aggie said...

I love that you are making meals from all the countries! That's so cool!

I too am of Southern Italian heritage (Sicily to be exact)...I remember eating polenta as a young child. I have never made it myself though. I would love to try this recipe out! It sounds wonderful!

Grace said...

you have no idea how much i wish i was italian and had oodles of phenomenal dishes like this in my repertoire. my drool factory is working overtime. :)

Proud Italian Cook said...

Paula I'd give you 10 gold metals for this one, Yum,Yum,Yum!!!

noble pig said...

I give you a gold medal for this performance...sounds wonderful! I adore polenta as well. Now you've got me thinking about this for dinner.

Marjie said...

I've never had polenta. Hell, I didn't even know what it was until I read this. What do you think, do I need to triple it for this horde? (And no casseroles here, either. I won't eat them, so my kids have never even had one!)

2 stoves works. I often use 3, 4, 5 burners. But no one has that much space except lunatics like me, right? I have a spare fridge in the basement - I'll send it over if you want it ;)

Paula said...

Hi Everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

Jan: Polenta is sooo tasty; once you try it, you'll want it forever. It will go great with your tomato gloop!

Esi: It really is tasty and reheats well, too.

Manggy: I'd love to have a gas-electric combo set up! Your honey castella would be a great dessert after this meal!

Mediterranean Kiwi: I've had to learn to recalculate everything now that the kids are eating more. I need to use bigger pots and pans on the stovetop and they don't always fit when all 4 burners are in use. Let me know if you give polenta a try!

Katherine: When we bought this stove, I even took my pots and pans to the store to make sure they fit. Of course at that time, I wasn't using all four burners at once. Perhaps I should make my fortune designing USEFUL stoves!

Aggie: Yeah! It's always great to meet another Italian. My family hails from the Calabrian region. Calabrian and Sicilian cuisine are very similar!

Grace: Thanks! Your desserts make me drool. Those swirly things ... yum!

Proud Italian: Thanks, it really was good. It would pair great with your grilled veggie torte!

Noble Pig: Thanks! I love polenta, it's my comfort food. Any suggestions on a good wine to go with it? :-D

Deborah said...

I've only had polenta once and I really liked it. I don't know why I haven't made it again!

About the stove - I have a 4 burner gas stove top. I think it's a bit bigger since it's not a stove/oven combo, so I don't usually have a hard time using them all unless I have lots of big pans. And I do have 4 big and one small burner, and that's a lifesaver. In my dream home, I'll have 6 burners. And my controls are on the side - I can see how it would be a pain for them to be in the back, especially if you have a big pot boiling pasta or something.

Paula said...

Hi Marjie: Come on over and I'll make you some kickin' polenta! Now I understand why so many homes back east and in the midwest have two kitchens ... one on the main floor and one in the basement. Hardly anyone has a basement out here, so it's common to see second fridges in garages. I'm really tempted to get one, too!

Paula said...

Hi Deborah! I'd love a six burner gas stove with controls on the side! I saw one where the grates all butted up to each other and so you could use any kind of pan!

shambo said...

I'm a polenta lover too. I really like your recipe, though. All the added milk & cream probably makes it really creamy while the broth, boullion cube & cheeses gives it extra flavor. Thanks for sharing that recipe. I'm eager to try it soon.

Anonymous said...

I've never had Polenta in my life. Looks very tasty! :)

OhioMom said...

Oh I love polenta! Love how you cut them out in stars :)

Pam said...

I haven't made polenta before but I will now. Thanks for a great recipe Paula. P.S. You're lucky you have two large burners. I have one large and three small - UGH!

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Your polenta looks perfect! You can take the polenta gold medal if it's up to me!

Dee said...

Gorgeous Paula! You make such an effort with dinner, I'm jealous! Those stars :)

I'm really enjoying the Olympics. And your dinner is the perfect tribute!

Kevin said...

That looks like a really tasty way to serve polenta.

Jason said...

Oh I love polenta, or really cornmeal anything. I love to add a little chevre and fresh rosemarey to my polenta and serve it as an alternative to mashed potatoes. I agree that polenta should be easy, it's not risotto after all! Have you tried frying it in a little butter and then drizzling with syrup for breakfast?

Bridgett said...

Now there is a gold for Italy!
You cannot go wrong with polenta with a meat/mushroom ragu and yours looks delicious. My kids are still small, so I get away with not making bigger portions and using all 4 burners. Besides, my daughter will just end up eating off my plate no matter what. My son just isn't much of an eater, so he eats small as well. I am sure that will change soon enough!

Kay said...

I've yet to try polenta, you've convinced me now :)

Paula said...

Welcome fellow bloggers!

Shambo: The milk and cream also add a richness to the polenta that I just love. To cut back on salt, eliminate the salt lick, I mean bouillon cube. You could also add herbs to bump up the flavor. Thanks for visiting.

Perennial Gardener: Lots of folks haven't tried it. I encourage you to give homemade polenta a try. It can fill in for potatoes or pasta!

Ohio Mom: Thanks! The kids liked the star shape. Usually I serve it creamy style, but this was fun to do!

Pam: That burner set up would be tough! I make polenta on a small burner. Hope you can make it!

Clumbsy Cookie: Thanks! Your Oreomisu would be a great dessert to go with this!

Dee: Thanks! After looking at your ribs, I think I need to come up with a polenta that would go with them ... kind of blending cultures! Fun stuff!

Kevin: Thanks for stopping by. The polenta was tasty!

Jason: Oooo, Chevre is a great idea! YUM! There's usually never any leftovers to reheat the next morning! Since I usually make a savory version, when there is leftoever, I pair it with a protein. I should give the sweet version a try!

Bridgett: I so identified with the sharing off your plate comment! My youngest is nine, but she and I still split a meal at a restaurant! My older kids now order off the adult menu ... yikes! I miss the kid prices! Best to eat at home and wrestle with my burners!

Kay: Polenta is definitely worth trying. It's my version of comfort food. Well, that and soup!

Lo said...

I am seriously thinking about polenta now. That recipe looks like a winner... and this definitely affects me as a gold medal kindofa thing :)

As far as fitting all my pans on the stove, the answer is... usually I can't. I could totally use a custom redesign using the pans I tend to use most together!!

Jude said...

Haven't replenished the polenta store in a while... Thanks for the reminder!

Lisa said...

I really enjoy polenta. It's so easy and is a real comfort food!

I like your olympic theme and great recipe choices. I'm looking forward to what's next...