I am an avid polenta lover. Most Romanians are. When you grow up in Romania, polenta is normal, traditional, not a big deal. When you grow up here, polenta is intimidating. I have been here long enough to know and understand that there is something foreign about the cornmeal and process of making polenta. Grits-makers aside (love grits!), polenta seems to have the fear-of-cooking undertones that risotto has. And I must tell you, it is much easier.
You decide how it tastes- spicy (add minced hot peppers), cheesy (you know what to add- grated), garlicky (minced), loaded with flavor from any spice that works with your savory palate. And you also decide how it looks- it can be runny like a thick sour cream or hard as a rock on the grill. Just don't buy the roll.
Polenta, a Romanian Staple
Ingredients: 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced; 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock; 1 3/4 cup coarse cornmeal or grits ( I am not a fan of the superfine cornmeal- you lose texture); 1/2 cup heavy cream; 3 tablespoons butter cut in small pieces; salt and pepper to taste.
Bring the stock to a boil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add salt to the water - about 1 teaspoon. Add the minced garlic and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Rain the polenta in stirring for a couple of minutes until there are no lumps and the polenta is well absorbed in the water. Cook stirring occasionally for about 20-25 minutes until it gets thick and most of the liquid evaporates. It will be thick- that's ok. If it gets too thick before the 20 minutes, add a few tablespoons of water. It will incorporate. Add more water as needed.
Turn the store off and start adding the cream in bit by bit stirring constantly to incorporate it. Do the same with the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be served soft immediately. If it isn’t creamy enough, add more butter or heavy cream. I served it this time with a generous sprinkle of chopped chives. Parsley works great too.
To grill it, set it in a pan in an even layer about 1 inch deep to cool. When cooled, just cut it into your desired shapes and sizes. And what to do with those leftovers? Croutons or Fries! Polenta croutons to add to any salad or main dish: cut up the polenta sheet into desired crouton sizes. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil turning often for 3-4 minutes until the outside hardens into a crust. For fries: cut up the polenta sheet set in the pan into desired fry size- my suggestion is half an inch by an inch thick and about 3 inches long. Brush with olive oil evenly and bake under a broiler for about 4-5 minutes turning the fries several times to get the evenly crispy.
Share with loved ones; I would too.
Photography by Jennifer Olson.