What is polenta? Polenta is one of those dishes referred to as “cucina povera” or poor man’s cuisine. This may be true due to its humble ingredients. But it can be enjoyed in so many ways, and its rich, creamy taste is definitely not what I call humble. Also, depending on what region of Italy you are in, the preparation and ingredients tends to be different.
An Ancient Grain
Polenta, an ancient grain- based dish typical to northern Italy, is perfect for a chilly Fall night. Some call polenta Italian grits. Before the arrival of corn, it was made with other legumes. Spelt, rye, farro ( a popular Italian grain) and millet were also common ingredients. These grains formed one of the rations given to Roman soldiers. The Greeks also had their own version, however, they used barley flour. These grains would be mixed with water to form a paste that would be then cooked on a hot stone to form a cake. Buckwheat, referred to as Saracen wheat was another common ingredient in the making of these “cakes.” The arrival of maize to Europe in the 16th century gave Italians a new ingredient with which to make polenta. Here is where we saw polenta vs grits.
How to make polenta? As far as the proportion of cornmeal to liquid, I like to use a 3-1 ratio. For my polenta I chose a combination of milk and chicken broth instead of water. I find that it creates a richer, more substantial flavor that you would realize if you only used water. I also like to add a cheese, on of my favorite ingredients. This time I chose Fontina, but feel free to improvise. That’s what it’s all about.
I like to pair my polenta with a choice of meat. In this recipe I used a poultry sausage with spinach and feta. I bought these great chicken sausages with feta and spinach. They made a perfect complement to the polenta. The sauteed mushrooms also added a nice touch.
Easy Polenta with Sausage and Mushrooms
A hearty dish for when the weather outside is frightful. You will be toasty warm inside with this comforting dish of polenta with sausage and mushrooms.
In a heavy saucepan place chicken broth, milk and butter then slowly bring to a boil. Begin adding the cornmeal stirring briskly. Stir in the Fontina cheese. When all the cornmeal has been mixed in, remove from heat.
- While chicken broth is boiling, cook sausages. Slice them and set them aside.
- Melt butter in a another non stick skillet and cook mushrooms.
- To serve, place a mound of polenta in a bowl, top with mushrooms and sausages. Sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese.