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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 08:07 pm

Full-circle mush

Make polenta with a spicy tomato sauce

Untitled Document This is a story about mush. As a kid up north, where breakfast was two eggs any style, toast, and hash browns, I knew little about mush (unless you count instant oatmeal). The word “grits” was not even part of the local vernacular (with the exception of Flo talking sass on television’s Alice), and it didn’t enter my frame of reference until I was well into my twenties, when I worked at a diner owned by a couple of grits-eating Floridians. The mush held such little appeal that it would be years before my next encounter, and this time it was yellow and went by the name “polenta.” Served with tomato sauce and cheese, my plate of mush was so good that I lapped it up and went straight to the store and bought a tube of polenta that all the magazines were raving about. Unfortunately, this was not mush; this was cardboard posing as mush. So I stayed away from the mush and pretty much had been leading a mush-free life until one day someone asked me for mushy advice and I couldn’t deliver. It was time to go back to the mush, stick my head into the pot, study her, and decide once and for all whether I could bring her back into my life. The short answer is yes. I’ve finally come full circle.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Polenta with a Spicy Tomato Sauce From A Passion for Piedmont, by Matt Kramer

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil One small head of garlic (about 12 cloves),    separated, peeled, and thinly sliced Six whole salted anchovy fillets, rinsed, soaked briefly  
   in water and finely chopped Approximately 16 ounces of tomatoes —
 five chopped fresh, seeded tomatoes or one can
  of tomato purée Handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped One jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced,    or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper Cooked polenta (see below)
Pour olive oil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat. Add the garlic and anchovies.
Add more olive oil if necessary to barely cover the ingredients. Cook for at least 30 minutes, making sure the garlic does not color or burn.
Add the tomatoes, parsley, and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, make polenta.

Classic Polenta From A Passion for Piedmont, by Matt Kramer
8 cups of water 2 teaspoons of salt 2 cups of stone-ground medium cornmeal (also sold    as corn grits or polenta)
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, bring the water and salt to a boil. Gradually drop the cornmeal into the pot one handful at a time (think rain shower), stirring or whisking constantly. When all of the cornmeal is incorporated — about five minutes — continue stirring but lower the heat as the cornmeal mass thickens. It will soon become fairly dense and take on volcanic qualities, occasionally erupting. Lower the heat if necessary to minimize eruptions and stir regularly (every two to three minutes) so all of the cornmeal gets equal heat exposure and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. As the polenta cooks, it will lighten in color and become slightly fluffy in texture. When it is approaching a fully cooked stage, it will start to pull away from the sides of the pot. At the 30-minute mark, the polenta is ready to be served, but you may keep cooking and stirring for another 10 to 15 minutes for a thicker result. You can’t really overcook polenta, as long as you keep stirring to prevent scorching. Makes four entrée-sized servings.


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