Poltena is a delicious, creamy side on its own right, but with more cream, butter, and some luxuriously rich mascarpone, you have a very rich side dish indeed.
This is a very simple dish and something of a blank canvas for anything you’d like to color it with (sort of like risotto–the awesome rice that demands equally awesome additions). My reason for keeping it simple will be clear in the next post (I served this as a side-dish), but if you’d like your polenta to stand out more, you’ve got many options: mushrooms, squash, beans, greens, ham, formed and deep fried–it all works and works wonderfully. Heck, you could even employ it in desserts. But additions aside, polenta, at its core, is simply boiled cornmeal, cooked and whipped so as to be light, puffy, and creamy, sort of like having a rich porridge that ever so faintly resembles cornbread. Its a good, comforting side dish that leaves a lot of room for experimentation and takes very little money and effort to prepare (ah, the best kind of side dish!).
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup mascarpone
Preparing polenta is almost surprisingly simple. The only nuisance (like risotto) is that you need to be close by so that you can give it semi-constant attention. So to get started: set out a saucepan and fill it with both the milk and water (you could go all milk or all water for more/less creaminess) and heat this until boiling.
Now, add in some salt and pepper and measure out the cornmeal. Start stirring constantly, and slowly, add in the cornmeal, whisking and stirring to break any lumps and get it fully incorporated. Keep doing this until you get all of the cornmeal in there and in a fairly homogenous mixture. You might really need to beat this with a whisk if you’re having trouble breaking up any clumps.
Now, drop the heat to a low/low-medium simmer, add in the butter, and stir. Set a timer, as this should be done somewhere around 20-30 minutes. You don’t need to stir non-stop, but don’t leave this unattended for a long time without stirring or you won’t get the creamy, fluffy polenta you so desire (and if you don’t get that, really, why bother boiling cornmeal? Because that alone doesn’t sound appetizing, whereas polenta does).
In the last few minutes of cooking, incorporate the mascarpone. Stir just until fully mixed and double-check the seasoning, adjusting to taste before you give this your blessing. Unless you have further plans for this (e.g. deep-frying, in which case you should cool it, form shapes, freeze, etc), serve the polenta immediately and enjoy!