Northern Italians are sometimes referred to as mangia polenta, mush eaters, because of the amount of cornmeal they eat. There are many ways to prepare it and some Italians say polenta made with coarse-ground cornmeal is better than that from fine-ground.
Some prefer to use white cornmeal as opposed to yellow, as is the custom in Montalcino, Tuscany. As a child, I did not like polenta, but Nonna Galasso made it every so often, even though she was a southern Italian. Whenever she served it, I developed a stomachache that would quickly disappear when she offered me a pack of Lifesavers - after I ate my polenta.
¼ cup Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups thin strips (matchsticks) zucchini
1½ cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1 recipe Polenta, chilled (see below)
8 thin slices of Italian Fontina cheese (1/2 pound)
In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until soft. Add the vegetables and sauté until soft. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
Cut the cold polenta into 8 slices and place them on a greased broiler pan. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly among the slices, and top each slice with a slice of cheese. Broil just until the cheese begins to melt. Serve immediately.
SERVES 8 TO 10
Polenta, or cornmeal cooked in milk or water, is to be found in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, the Trentino, and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Polenta requires constant vigorous stirring to achieve its characteristic smooth consistency.
4½ cups water
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups coarsely ground cornmeal
In a large heavy pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt. Add the cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring vigorously all the while with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture thickens and begins to leave the side of the pan, about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the coarseness of the cornmeal.
Immediately pour the polenta onto a lightly oiled wooden board or platter. Let it cool for 15 minutes, then cut into slices. Serve with a sauce of your choice or in place of bread, noodles, or lasagna.
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