As you probably already know, I love to cook. What you may not know is that one reason I love to cook (and bake) is that it provides me with a productive form of procrastination, a delicious project with a definite beginning and end, and a rare opportunity to work with my hands (writing and typing don’t count!). Given this, I find myself looking through food blogs on a daily basis, constantly bookmarking recipes I want to try. I’m always open to new ideas and ingredients, but only so long as they can serve more than one purpose. As one blogger I read recently said, I’m not so much into the “one trick pony” — you know, that rare, expensive ingredient that’s not really versatile enough for someone living on a grad student budget. I’m all for food, but not when it means going too far out of my way or budget. This is supposed to be fun!
Enter my desire to make polenta. We’d gotten cornmeal for pizza (and then bagels) a few weeks ago, and I figured, why not get more bang for your buck by finding a way to use it for more than just dusting a pan? I’d vaguely heard murmurings over the years about how “difficult” polenta is to make, how much stirring and constantly watching the pot is involved… all utterly false! I promise! It’s easy! Food myth busted 🙂
Thanks to Mark Bittman, of whose NYTimes.com column “The Minimalist” I am a big fan, I conquered this all-too-easy replacement for rice/pasta, and found a real use for cornmeal. And now, what was once a “new” ingredient has become a staple! I love when that happens!
Adapted from Bittman’s column in The New York Times*
* I found watching the video in the above-linked article especially helpful at reassuring me that anyone can make polenta.
1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup Parmasan cheese
4 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste
(yes. that’s it)
1. In a medium pot, combine cornmeal and 1 cup of water. Whisk together to eliminate all lumps.
2. Place over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil. Now, you don’t have to stand over it obsessively, but you can be nearby in the kitchen reading and eyeing the pot every now and then.
3. When it’s boiling, your mixture will begin to thicken. Go ahead and whisk it some, and add another cup of water. The mix will become watery, whisk it, and let it simmer.
4. Repeat step 3 twice more. The reason is, although the polenta will look cooked, the grains themselves will be raw to the taste.
5. After you’ve added cup #4 of water, whisked, and let your mix thicken, you’re done! Turn off the heat, whisk in the cheese, salt and pepper, and that’s it! I happened to have some leftover heavy cream from biscuits, so I threw in 1/4 cup of that as well, but I’ve also made it without. We topped ours with some sliced-up-n-cooked sausage and some steamed broccoli on the side, but I really think you can put anything on it (or eat it alone).