polenta that rocks

Many have followed the basic polenta recipe (polenta, water & salt) and wondered...
what's the big deal? Well, it's called "basic" because every home or restaurant puts
their own spin on it.

Two main ways to get more flavor out of this mush with the use of bullion & dairy.
You can use just one of the two, or for a real punch, both. I use both and turned my
polenta-hating-husband into an eager polenta eater.

While you're boiling the water, before starting to drizzle the polenta grains, throw a
bullion cube in the pan. Then, once all the grain is drizzled and you're starting to
see some thickening, take a look at the dairy section of your fridge and go to town.

Got left-over sheep's-milk yogurt? Throw it in. Got a small piece of smoked Gouda? Throw it in. Got some cheese to grate? Grate it in. The polenta is starting to get really thick and you need to thin it? Add some milk.

My number one secret for making my polenta super-flavorful is with something you probably throw away. Next time you finish grating your triangle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, throw the "crust" in a Ziploc bag and put it in your freezer. When you're boiling water for your polenta, throw the cheese crust in there too! A good five minutes should get enough of the delicious, flavorful fat out of the crust to enchant your diners. Don't forget to scoop it back out of the water before adding the grain. You can stick that crust right back in the freezer and flavor another couple of polentas with it. You might not actually want to do this in front of any guest who is not enlightened in the cheese-making process (ie. where the milk protein migrates to the outer layer of the form thus making a crust).

You can also get additional flavor by throwing just a touch of dried herbs (while the water is boiling so the flavor is evenly distributed) or - as I mentioned to a stunned professional chef - salami. Cut about two inches of a salami log in very small cubes, and toss them in while you're boiling the water. You want to melt the salami fat and evenly distribute it throughout the polenta (so don't use the fake reduced-fat-salami for this technique).

Please, fellow home cooks, do everyone a favor and don't use all four of these techniques (bullion, diary, herb, salami) at the same time. The whole point to making delicious flavorful things is to use quality ingredients and higlight the flavor of each, not to empty your refrigerator and sprice rack.

Finally, if the polenta is the star of the show you'll want to either serve it top-less, or use some very simple uncomplicated flavors so you don't take any of the spotlight from the polenta.

Truffle Salami Polenta Topped with Sauteed Onins & Mushrooms
Use alot of restraint with the salami - the truffle flavor is strong so you want to hilight it, not dominate dinner.

for the polenta:
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 chicken bullion cube
1 cup cornmeal
1 inch thick slice of Black Truffle Salami

for the topping:
2 Large Onions sliced in rings or sticks
16 oz (500 grams) of sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil

Make the polenta first. Then, pop it in the oven to keep warm while you make the topping.

To make the polenta, pour 3 1/2 cups of the water into a large sauce pan, add the bullion cube and the truffle salami in very small cubes (1/8" or 1cm). Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat. While the water is boiling, start stirring with a wooden spoon clockwise in one hand, while slowly pouring the polenta in the water with the other. Stir briskly until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until mixture begins to get stiff quickly. When the polenta begins to come away from the sides of the pan and the spoon stands up by itself in the center of the polenta, it is ready to pour in individual bowls. Put the bowls in the oven and turn on at a very low heat (200F or 100C) to keep warm.

To make the topping, add a little olive oil in a sautee' pan. Add the sliced onlins first. When they begin to get translucent add the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste. Stir infrequently so that some of the mushrooms and onions start to get a little crispy. When the contents of the pan are evenly cooked, pull the individual bowls out of the oven, and put a little bit of this topping on each plate.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with a strong red wine!

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