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To Italians, polenta is a basic staple in their diet. Much like rice, bread or potato is to other culture, its meant to be a bland grain to balance the dish. However, polenta was not always held in such esteem. In the sixteen century when it was first introduced, polenta was seen as dish for the poor. It was a low cost way of keeping people full. Thankfully, the love of polenta stuck around and is now considered a key food in Italian Cuisine.
What is Polenta?
Polenta is re hydrated cornmeal. The quality of polenta will vary based on the corn used. It is said that the best polenta is still made in northern Italy. They still use traditional technique such as stone milling and sun drying to produce superior polenta. By slowly drying and grinding the corn, they preserve the flavor and germs of the natural corn. Some might be put off by the idea of bacteria in their food, but its that very same bacteria that gives food its unique and desirable characteristic. Something that a lot of food in America is lacking due to pasteurization.
Modern factories will use machines to achieve the similar result, but flavors tends to be lacking in comparison. Factories are more focused on efficiency and production rather than quality of flavor. The great thing about factory made product is that you can expect consistency from one batch to another. Another good thing is that because the germ is killed, they tend to have a much longer shelf life.
Polenta Shelf Life and Storage
The shelf life of Polenta will vary depending on the manufacturer. You should check the best before date. If you cannot find it, take a whiff and see if it smells rancid. If it does smell rancid, more than likely the fat has gone bad.
There are some things that you can do to prolong its life. For starter, you should store polenta in an air tight container. They also tend to last better in cool temperature of around fifty to sixty degree. Storing it at temperature higher than this will increase the rancidity rate.
Artisinal made polenta generally still have the germ intact. In these instance, its best to consume it as quickly as possible. The germ will decrease the shelf life dramatically. If you cannot finish it, then its best to refrigerate or freeze it.
How to Cook Polenta
The traditional way to cook polenta is boiling water and slowly pour in the polenta. At the same time, you should be constantly stirring to prevent lumps. You have to stand over the stove and keep on stirring to prevent lumps from forming. However, I recommend that you hydrate and mix in the polenta in cool water. What happens when you dump in polenta into hot water is that the outer surface coagulate. Once that happens, you need to break it apart to prevent to hydrate the inner portion.
By soaking and stirring in cool water, all the individual granular of polenta will be slowly hydrate. This greatly reduces the amount of lumps formed. It is also recommended to cook it over a period of an hour or two over low heat. This will ensure the best results.
Stirring is very much like risotto. It is best to constantly stir it. But really, who does that? I recommend you just pour it in and let it form a crust on the bottom. Keep it on a low simmer and just come back and stir occasionally. Use a Wooden Spoon with a hole in the center for best results. Whisk are not good due to its viscosity.
The water ratio will vary based on the brands you buy. It will also depend on how viscous you want your polenta. For a thicker polenta, add less water, for thinner add more water.
Best Polenta Pot
Traditional Italian cooking calls for a copper unlined pot. It has superior heat conductivity to ensure even cooking. One of the most popular one is made by “>Ruffoni. The flared top lets you stir it easier. However, any pot will really do. Considering the Price of the Ruffoni Cookware, I doubt most will be willing to pay for it.
Polenta Nutrition and Health
Polenta much like bred, rice or potato is not necessarily healthy. It is high in calories and carbohydrate. If you are watching your waist line, then its best to cut down on the overall consumption of it. The good thing is that polenta is vegan and gluten friendly. Its great for people who cannot eat bread. In terms of ingredients, its just water and cornmeal. Some manufacturer might mix in other grains so read the label to be sure.
Below, you will find the nutritional facts of Polenta.
|Serving Size||100 g (3.5oz)|
|Total Fat||1.8 g|
|Saturated Fat||.2 g|
|Trans Fat||0 g|
|Total Carbohydrate||79 g|
|Dietary Fiber||3.9 g|
|Total Sugar||1.6 g|
Best Polenta Brands and where to buy them?
In America, the best dried and relatively available brand is by Roland. Fresh made polenta is hard to find. If you have a specialty food shop near you try there. Otherwise, go to italy for it.
Roland some of the best polenta around. It is a product of italy and its stone ground. It has a slight sweet and tangy flavor that everyone will love. The quantity that you get is relatively large so I hope you have a big appetite.
Bob’s Red Mill
If you want an alternative, then bob red mill is a good choice. However, you are paying a premium for their brand. Its one of the most recognizable brand for dried grains.
Polenta is a great substitute to bread. Its gluten free and delicious to eat. You can easily pair it with any ragu or sauce. While making it can be a little bit challenging, once you get the hang of it, its a cinch. I hope you give this grain a try, its always good policy to have variety in your diet.