Author Notes: This is a no-nonsense polenta technique familiar to Italian restaurant kitchens everywhere — perfect for a dinner party, or anytime you want to get cooking well before dinner time and go about your business. Best of all: the longer it sits, the better it gets. Any bitterness fades; every gritty grain swells and turns to cream. You can make it with stock, or add milk or cream or cheese, but even straight water polenta will taste better than it has a right to. Adapted slightly from The Foods of Southern Italy (William Morrow, 1987). —Genius Recipes
cups polenta (not instant)
- Using only the top half of a double boiler, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, and add salt. Meanwhile, put as much water in the bottom half of the double boiler as will be needed to actually cover the bottom of the top part of the double boiler when it is finally put in, and bring to a heavy simmer. (Note: If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use a large pot with a slightly smaller bowl or pot set inside it.)
- Put the polenta in a measuring cup from which you can pour it. With a slender but sturdy wooden spoon or a medium-strength whisk, create a vortex in the water in the top half of the double boiler by swirling it in one direction only. This is critical because, if you simply slosh the water around, you create lumps in the polenta that are almost impossible to remove. (If you do get lumps, don’t worry — just mash them against the side of the pot now.)
- While the water is swirling in a vortex, drizzle in the polenta a pioggia (like it is raining). You can do this very rapidly, but do not stop stirring. When all the polenta is in, continue to stir but not so energetically. Keep stirring the whole time, being sure to scrape into the corners of the pot where the sides meet the bottom. Lower the heat so that the polenta intermittently bubbles on the surface and “spits” at you.
- Continue to stir the polenta for about 5 minutes. When the polenta begins to thicken, place the lid on the pan, and fit it into the bottom half of the double boiler (with the simmering water below reaching up as high as possible underneath the top piece). If you don’t have a well-fitting lid, seal with foil. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so. Taste for doneness. The polenta should be very yellow, smooth, shiny, and sweet tasting. If it is slightly bitter, cook it longer.
- Polenta facile can be held in a slowly simmering double boiler in perfect condition for up to 4 hours. This makes it ideal for large parties or when you simply do not want too many last-minute dishes to worry about.
Photo by James Ransom