Polenta has long been an Italian staple, originating as a peasant food from northern Italy where it was originally cooked over open flames in a special vessel, a paiolo, that was made from copper, allowing the heat to be distributed evenly and with a curved bottom to stop it catching over its long cooking time. Traditionally, the polenta was served spread over a large board plonked on a table and eaten communally with spoons. I love this idea, as soft polenta is one of my ultimate comfort foods. When we make it at Berta, it often distracts me and I find myself standing next to the stove eating spoonfuls of it straight from the pot. We use a lovely organic polenta that is a little coarser than usual and leaves you with an excellent result – soft and creamy, yet with a slightly textured bite.
- 325 ml water
- 325 ml milk
- 100 g polenta
- 25 g butter
- 30 g grated parmesan
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
It’s best to make polenta in a wider-based pot, so it has plenty of room to move. It also helps it cook nicely with less chance of sticking.
Mix the water and milk in your pot, place it over a medium heat and watch it carefully with whisk in hand and polenta nearby so you can catch it before it boils over.
As the liquid comes up to the boil, slowly rain in the polenta with one hand and whisk with the other.
Once it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to as low as it will go, throw in a large pinch of salt and continue whisking at regular intervals. This is very important as lumpy polenta is very bad. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
The polenta is ready once you taste it and can no longer feel a grainy texture on your tongue. Mix in the butter and parmesan and season quite heavily with more salt and white pepper. Cover your pot with a lid and leave it in a warm spot while you ready yourself for the next stage of your cooking moment.
• Use the butter and cheese amounts as a guide only, depending on how you plan to use the polenta. I find it can always take a little more of both.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Suresh Watson.