Polenta, that which binds us to the stove.

So. My dad is from the north of Italy. Parma. Yes where parmesan comes from and Parma ham, which obviously we just called prosciutto crudo (‘raw’ ham, as opposed to cooked ham: ‘prosciuto cotto’). And polenta is a big thing up there.

I’ve never made polenta. We always have some in the house, but I just sprinkle it onto trays before I make sourdough bread or pizzas. I love it though and far from being the peasant food of yore I see it as a real treat. Today, I saw this recipe from Angela Hartnett. Chard with polenta and blue cheese.

Looked nice. Looked easy. Looked warming.

“Cook the polenta according to packet instructions,” says Harnett, after you’ve added the milk and butter she recommends “the coarser type takes longer – about 20 minutes compared to five – requires more attention and stirring, but in my opinion is far better.”

Waitrose sells a polenta that is £5 for a bag. But hey, I thought, it’s the main component of the meal, I’ll get it. Bound to be nicer. Organic. Nice bag, from Italy.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lots. I’m not going to tear apart a recipe written by a Michelin starred chef, because I haven’t made it and if you make it with the readily available polenta it’s probably delicious and entirely do-able. I’ll never know. What I can tell you is that the polenta I bought – the lovely old fashioned kind – requires 90 minutes NINETYFUCKINGMINUTES of cooking. And it sucks up the liquid Hartnett tells you to put in within five seconds.

I rang my mum. This couldn’t possibly be true. She talked me through how you cooked polenta. You boil the water until it’s really angry boiling, put some oil in, then you sprinkle in the polenta and stir. If you get lumps in it at this stage, they never come out. Then she regaled me with tales of how in the old days, you had to cook it for two hours! And stir it continuously because otherwise it lumped up and if it lumped up at, say, the last moment, it was as if those preceding 119 minutes of stirring had never happened. She said this with a laugh as if she were telling me about how people used to send telegrams and could now just pick up a phone.

“I bought polenta that takes 90 minutes to cook” I told her.

“Whya didn’ta youa buy the quicka cooka polenta Annalisa?” she said, incredulous, quite rightly thinking what was the POINT of progress if her daughter had just spent so much money to go back in time, and not in a good way. Not to see Jesus and find out if he was, as I have always suspected, married. Or shoot any number of dictators or find out what happened to Lord Lucan. But to root myself to the spot for an hour and a half, stirring, have I mentioned, continuously.

I had no answer. I had created my own ball and chain.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am no slackard in the kitchen, but this was insanity. The fury of generations of Italian women before me welled up. (No wonder women didn’t have bingo wings back then. Stirring polenta for ninety minutes is a serious work out.)

My mum gave me this advice: “Just stirra it for as longa as you can stand it, then put itta in a tray, leave it and cooka it in the oven or slicea itta up and fry it.”

And this is what I’ve done. I’ve rebelled.

Be warned people, if you buy this polenta be prepared to spend 90 minutes chained to the hob. If you hate someone, buy it as a present for them.

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6 thoughts on “Polenta, that which binds us to the stove.

  1. Pingback: Friday Links | Nic Dempsey

  2. Joanna

    Almost speechless but you mske this very funny ! I wonder if you could pressure cook the stuff and then whizz in a blender? Brian brought a bag of it home once from Waitrose, I hid it in the cupboard and am sure I gave it to someone. I hope they have forgiven me. I go one step further then your mama and buy the cooked in slabs sort. Cooking rage is intensified when following a chef recipe that for whatever reason turns into an epic nightmare. Mine was Marcus Wareing’s Jaffa Cakes. I would stick to prosciutto crudo…

    Reply
  3. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    Hello Joanna! I’ve changed the title. The former one was a bit aggressive and also not good if I can’t let my own children catch my blog titles…yes you’re so right about chef recipes. The recipe probably does work with quick polenta. I might try it again as it does look good. I was talking to my father about it and I said “where did they find 90 minutes/two hours to stir it?” and he said “well they did” (funnily enough I never do my dad with an Italian accent although of course he also has one).

    But I wonder if they really DID find 90 mins or they got one of the older children to do it (child labour!)? My dad was describing how they ate it (sandwiched with cheese and some prosciutto) and it sounded lovely and rather romantic. But food from a loving childhood always sounds like that doesn’t it?

    Reply
  4. Lisa Durbin

    This is so funny – I really did laugh out loud reading this. I am not a fan of polenta (think it’s a textural thing?) but I have used it to make corn muffins and corn bread. The 90 minute cooking time just reinforces my dislike!

    Reply
  5. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    Aw Lisa. I love polenta, fried it’s gorgeous (on feed days natch!). But in the end, there was bad blood between this polenta and I so what I do is feed a bit to the chickens every day, warmed up. They of course, go mad for it.

    Funny but corn bread makes me feel claustrophobic like I can’t breathe.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Polenta ‘pizza’ with cherry tomatoes and some sort of cheesy topping. | Pane Amore e Cha Cha Cha

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