Polenta – Piquant Peasant Food

Polenta Close Up

As old as ancient Rome, polenta is rich in history, flavor and versatility.  Italian cuisine has been characterized by being the food of the peasant and just as poor Southern Italians worked the fields with their bellies full of pasta, Northern Italians survived on little more than polenta for centuries.  Made from wild grains and later from primitive wheat, faro (a popular Italian grain), millet, spelt or chickpeas, the grain was mixed with water to form a paste that was then cooked on a hot stone.

In Roman times, polenta was the staple of the mighty Roman Legions and would eat it in either a porridge or in a hard cake like form. By this time, milling techniques had greatly improved and the course grind favored for polenta had mostly been replaced by farina, a flour. However even though bread was widely available in Ancient Rome, the legions and the poor alike preferred the simplicity and tastiness of their early polenta. For the next few centuries, nothing changed in the history of polenta, much like the living conditions of those who ate it most – the peasantry.

What I love the most about polenta is that it’s CHEAP! So when I’m looking for a meal that serves many and I’m struggling to get to the next paycheck I grab a bag of corn meal and get cooking! I also like the versatility – you can eat it plain with a little butter and cheese or add whatever you want to it.  I recently made Basil & Garlic Polenta Patties.  Pay day can’t come soon enough and spending money on meals during the work week isn’t an option so I decided to make food in bulk to keep at work so I wouldn’t go hungry.  They take very little time to make and came out fantastic!

Make your polenta:

  • Bring 6 cups of water to a boil, add 2tsp. salt and whisk in 1 3/4 cups of corn meal.
  • Keep stirring the polenta until all of the water is absorbed and it has a thick consistency.
  • Turn off the heat at add a few pats of butter. Stir in and let it melt.
  • Finely chop basil and fresh garlic to taste (I happen to like a lot of each!)
  • Mix into the polenta and let it cool to room temperature.

Polenta Pot 

Preheat the oven to 350.

  • With an ice cream scoop place polenta onto a greased cookie sheet.
  • Flatten into a patty shape.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake for another 10 minutes.

 Serve hot with marinara and cheese or eat them just as they are.

 PolentaMarinara   Baked Polenta

The combinations for these patties are endless…kalamata olives, goat cheese & parsley, pancetta and Asiago, smoked mozzarella and prosciutto!  I’ve already had a request for bacon and cheddar polenta patties which would naturally be cooked in the bacon’s grease in a cast iron skillet.  My taste testers sure do have it rough, don’t they?




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