Polenta with Pzazz!

Lately I’ve become a big fan of Polenta. It’s a great alternative to pasta and rice, and it matches well with all kinds of vegetables. My wife makes the best polenta dishes I have had, so I’ve been trying to learn from her technique. The most important element, she insists, is keeping a high ratio of water to cornmeal in the mix. Her recommendations are a minimum of 4:1 or 5:1 in favor of water.

Further research online and in my cookbooks revealed another technique that looked intriguing. Instead of slowly drizzling cornmeal into the pot of boiling water, this approach described soaking the cornmeal in a pot of water overnight, and then cooking it all with more water the next day. The advantages suggested were twofold: (1) less likelihood of “clumping” which often occurs when trying to add the meal steadily with the water boiling, and (2) the soaked cornmeal makes for a smoother, less grainy end product.

And finally, I had one more motivation for this meal: a recently-re-tinned and polished copper pot. This pot was made in France for Williams-Sonoma many years ago. It is 9.5 inches in diameter and weighs more than 6 lbs., so it is ideal for a vigorously-stirred polenta.

Now for the ingredients; I wanted to make something with lots of flavor and rich in colors. Here are the elements: (note: Matbucha is a Moroccan/Middle Eastern spicy sauce made with peppers and tomatoes.)

  • 1 cup of medium-grain cornmeal
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup rice milk
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 4 Tbs. sweet butter, half for the sweet potatoes, and half for the polenta
  • 1/2 cup of Matbucha from New York Shuk
  • two handfuls of fresh black trumpet mushrooms

I must tell you that one of the stars of this show was a Butter-Roasted Sweet Potatoes recipe from the food blog, Kitchn. It has color and flavor that make any dish pop! It was the first thing to cook.

Next task was making the polenta. That took about 45 minutes, stirring often but not continuously. As a last step in the process, I added the cheese, 2 Tbs. butter, and the rice milk, stirring vigorously.

The final steps were quick sautéeing of the trumpet mushrooms, spooning the Matbucha sauce onto the plates, and pouring the wines. Happily, the excitement of the whole experience matched my inflated expectations.

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