Basic Stovetop Polenta

I got a new cookbook a week ago on homecooked Italian family meals, and decided to try out their Polenta recipe.   Polenta is one of my early Italian favorites when I got into cooking back in 2000.    I ended up making some adjustments to their recipe because it needed a little more flavor (butter, pepper, a little more salt) + more water was added to soften up the mixture.   It was good, but I was reminded of a better recipe in Henry Hill’s the Wiseguy Cookbook which contains many of my adjustments.   This is a great cookbook for old Italian recipes and contains several stories from Henry Hill’s life in his family and the mafia.   

Usually when I make this recipe, I like to top it with my favorite spaghetti sauce to serve.    My favorite is from Figaretti’s, an excellent restaurant in Wheeling, WV.    You can find this sauce here at Penn Mac in the Strip.

Ingredients

6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarse-grained cornmeal or polenta
1 ½ tablespoons polenta
1 teaspoon black pepper (to taste) – adjust according to your tastes
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional) adjust to tastes, will add saltiness
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

Directions

Put 3 cups water in a heavy-bottom pot and the other 3 cups in a regular saucepan.   Add salt and polenta to the water in the heavy-bottomed pot and stir well, using a wire whisk to start and then a wooden spoon as the polenta starts to thicken.   Heat the water in the saucepan to a boil and keep heated at a simmer.

Heat the polenta mixture over high heat to a boil, stirring constantly.   When it reaches a boil, lower heat and cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.   When the mixture starts to thicken, add one cup of the heated water from the saucepan and stir well.   Stir constantly for about 2 minutes.   Cover the pot and let mixture cook about 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  The polenta should be simmering fast but not boiling.   Remove lid, and stir well for about 30 seconds.   Re-cover and allow to cook for another 10 minutes before stirring for another 30 seconds.   If mixture is too thick, add ½ cup of heated water from the saucepan at a time, stirring well.    (You probably won’t use all the heated water.)  Repeat process once more (for a total of 30 minutes).  The polenta should be pulling away from the sides of the pan when you stir it.    If not, stir well and cook an additional 5-10 minutes.   It should have a smooth, not grainy texture.

If serving immediately, remove from heat and stir in butter and pepper, then add optional cheese to taste.    Stir well to combine and serve.

If making firm polenta to use later, cook and extra 5 minutes to thicken a bit more.   Lightly oil/butter a 1-1/2 quart casserole and spoon warm polenta into it, smoothing the top with a spatula or knife.   Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate at least 1 hour.   Polenta will get firm as it cools.

Notes:  As noted, you won’t use all the hot water on the side.   The basic ratio for polenta to water is four to one.  The extra water is in case the mixture gets too thick.

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