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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Peasant food? Yup. Polenta!

I'm poor. It's not a secret, because I'm not alone. Come on, admit it, thanks to the GFC and the constant threat of redundancy, mortgage foreclosure and not having enough money left on a Friday night to buy beer, we're all skint.

Due to my skintness, I haven't been eating out very much, and so have nothing to review for you guys, much to my dismay. I've been caught in a conundrum: pay off credit card asap and sacrifice lifestyle, or carry on being frivolous. I've chosen the former.

As a result of this decision, I have been on a mission to eat cheap, and eat well. Over the next few months I will be looking at, cooking, eating and blogging about the cheapest and tastiest consumables I can find.

Lucky for me, who has no desire to do a Morgan Spurlock, vegetables, pulses and grains are about the cheapest things out there. Today, I am on the polenta bandwagon.

Polenta is awesome. I eat it all the time. Italian translation: cornmeal mush. A traditional northern Italian dish, but with potential ties back the Ancient Greeks, who ate various cereal porridges, or polos. After corn was introduced to Italy in the seventeenth century it overtook all other types of grain because it combined so well with dairy products. Funnily enough, I love polenta because it combines well with dairy products also, namely cheese.

While traditional polenta takes hours of cooking with constant stirring, readily available instant polenta only takes a few moments to prepare, and is very delicious. Healthy too, if you don't put too much cheese in like I do.

Grilled polenta:

Place 2 cups of water in a pot and bring to boil
and add a tablespoon of vegetable stock to water. Add 1/2 cup of instant polenta, and lower heat to minimum. Stir polenta contantly for about 5 minutes. I like to throw in a cup of grated cheese in also. When cheese is melted you're ready to roll.

Polenta can be eaten soft, and it a great companion with stews and casseroles. Or, as I like to do, spread polenta in a flat slice tray which has been lined with clingfilm (makes it easier to get out of tray). Allow to cool and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Slice polenta, add a light coating of oil and gently fry of grill for a crispy outside and a soft mushy interior.

There are so many ways to use polenta: cakes, muffins, slices, sweet, savory - the uses are endless. Polenta is great friends with French and Italian foods, and is easy on the hip pocket. Tasty and useful, I admire that in a foodstuff.

So next time you are at the market, grab a packet. $2 worth of polenta goes a long way. Then go home and Google polenta recipes. Too easy. Enjoy.


Lisa said...

I have mad love for polenta. My favorite way to use leftovers is cut into cubes and fried in olive oil for salad croutons--especially good on baby spinach leaves with a nice balsamic dressing. Or as a snack. It was also a steady part of my boys' diet when they first started solid foods and I can still sneak it by them now and again.

What I especially like about this post is that, although we haven't really had to watch our budget as much recently, it wouldn't kill me to shop more carefully and healthfully. I'm near an awesome produce market where everything is dirt cheap; granted, not organic, but sometimes I think it's better to eat properly and spend carefully than jump on the green bandwagon with reckless abandon. You've given me the push I need to think more carefully about how I spend my food money and not think I can have everything I want because it could all go by the wayside at any given moment.

It's almost bed time and now I want a bowl of mush. Mmm...

Lisa said...

Sorry to double comment but I forgot to mention how gorgeous that photo is.

Maggie said...

Thanks Lisa. Polenta is awesome, oh yes.

Cheers about the photo, I took it myself. I feel very clever and special now.

Alta said...

I love polenta. I make it all the time for breakfast with cream and cheese (aka grits here in the Southern US - but I actually use polenta instead of the white grits). I once tried to use that leftover cheese polenta for frying as cakes, didn't work. I wonder, was it because it had all that cheese in it?

s. stockwell said...

Polenta is such a classic way to enrich a dish quickly! We have a big southern tradition using grits but the polenta is a little more refined? and with such a gorgeous golden color, it makes a big statement. good one! thanks, s

Maggie said...

Hi Alta,

You guessed it, too much cheese will stop the polenta from frying up. It should still go crispy around the edges, but will fall apart if you try to pick it up. I made a batch a while ago that had ricotta, fetta, goats cheese and parmesan. Sometiems too much cheese can be a bad thing!

Also, when frying under the grill, put a very light coating of oil on the cold polenta, that will help.


Tangled Noodle said...

I must admit that I'm dedicated to rice as my primary starchy staple but my husband's family loves to tell the story of how he would constantly ask his grandmother for cornmeal mush. I finally made it and it was delicious for something so easily prepared. (We had it as breakfast, with maple syrup, and as dinner with grilled fish on top).