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Although pasta has become universally accepted as the national dish of Italy, it is polenta - more than any other food - that sustained life in early days in many regions of the country. 1 teaspoon salt 1 2/3 cups coarse grained

imported Italian yellow

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cornmeal Bring seven cups of water to boil in large, heavy pot. Add salt. Keep water boiling at medium-high heat, and add cornmeal in a very thin stream, letting a fistful of it run through nearly closed fingers. Stir constantly with a whisk while adding meal and make sure water is always boiling. When all cornmeal has been added, stir with long-handled wooden spoon for two minutes, then cover the pot. Adjust heat so that water bubbles at a lively simmer but not a full boil. When the polenta has cooked 10 minutes, stir for one full minute, then cover again. Repeat three more times. Let polenta cook five more minutes for a total of 45 minutes. Stir vigorously for another minute. Transfer to a moistened bowl (rinsed but not dried) and let polenta rest 10 to 15 minutes. Unmold onto a platter and serve at once, or let it cool to use in other recipes. Serves about 6. If serving hot polenta, scoop out the upper central part of the dome and fill it with whatever you have prepared to go with it, such as sausages, pork ribs, veal, beef, lamb stew, fricasseed chicken, or other meats.

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