Many people don’t like polenta
Is it because polenta is a type of porridge and therefore synonymous with grits and gruel? Do people scoff at polenta because they believe it to be trumped-up peasant food? If this is the case why do they not scoff at lobsters, oysters or oxtails which were also once the staples of peasantry? Or is it that despite its wholesome heritage it just doesn’t taste of much? And this much we can all agree on – but surely all carbohydrates are essentially bland when eaten on their own. You could say the role of a carbohydrate is to act as a neutral conduit for other, more flavourful, ingredients – yin that needs its yang.
So give polenta a chance. It may be an acquired taste, but it’s a taste well worth acquiring.
An authentic polenta ritual requires an elaborate routine which must include the right occasion, the right equipment and of course the right recipe. Ideally, the polenta is cooked over a wood fire outdoors and always in a dedicated and huge copper polenta pot. It must be stirred with a particular stick – called a ‘cannella’ – which will, of course, become a treasured family heirloom and passed down through the generations. After what seems hours of cooking, the polenta is deemed ready to serve. With many hands and excited shouts of advice and guidance the cooked polenta is rolled carefully out of the pot, where it will hopefully land in a perfect mound in the centre of a large wooden board. It is then ceremoniously paraded to the table by an elated entourage, all beaming with proud smiles.
Like most culinary traditions and rituals it is not so much about the food – it’s about keeping memories alive. This is what motivates my tales of food and cooking. I believe everything we eat is associated with stories, stories that help define who we.
Our family will make polenta several times a year and always at New Year. It is always served with a ragù of braised meat. Long may the tradition live.