Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simple Polenta [Grits]

Polenta has a bad reputation as a very fussy starch, but it may help your confidence to think of it as "corn grits" -- a simple, salt-of-the-earth sort of dish.  The name polenta is derived from pulmentum, the Latin word for "porridge."  In practice, the big difference between "polenta" and "grits" is that the former is traditionally adulterated with cheese and butter [and sometimes milk] while the latter makes use of bacon fat [and cheese on occasion, but those are usually called "cheese grits"].  Despite these conventions, a plain mixture of cornmeal, water, and salt can rightfully go by either name.

Polenta making is often seen as hot and tedious, requiring a long simmer with constant stirring to prevent the dreaded clumps... but this, my friends, is completely unnecessary.   Clump-free polenta can be made in your microwave in 10 minutes or less with a minimum of stirring!
[I sound like an infomercial, but wait! There's more!]

Actually, there's not.  You can certainly get fancy with your polenta, but its glory lies in its simplicity -- you don't have to do much at all.... and that makes it a regular guest at my weeknight dinner table.

Recipe: Microwave Polenta [Grits]

It's really a ratio of 1 part cornmeal to 5 parts liquid, and 1.5 minutes in the microwave for each cup of water, but I've broken it down into rounded serving amounts.  You can adjust the amount of liquid to get your desired consistency... I like a fairly sturdy glop under my fried eggs, but 6 parts water will make it more porridge-y. Increasing the cooking time by a minute or so each time will make it sturdier and better for cooling/cutting/grilling. Any type of cornmeal can be used: yellow or white, fine or coarse.  I've listed a few liquid options, but I almost always use tap water.

for 1:  3 tablespoons cornmeal, 1 cup liquid, pinch of salt. Nuke 1:30 minutes, stir, nuke 1:30 minutes.

for 2:  1/3 cup cornmeal, 1 and 2/3 cups liquid, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Nuke 3 minutes, stir, nuke 3 minutes

for 6:  1 cup cornmeal, 5 cups liquid, 1 tsp salt. Nuke 5 minutes, stir, nuke 5 minutes

Combine cornmeal and water in a microwave-safe bowl with a capacity of roughly twice the water required.  Stir with a fork to to break up any dry clumps.  Microwave for the stated time, covered.  Stir with a fork to incorporate the liquid.  Repeat microwave time, uncovered.  Stir with a fork one more time and season to taste.

Liquid Options:
broth, stock, vegetable juice, milk, [If using milk, use a container with a capacity at least 3 times greater than the liquid required, it gets big as it boils.]

Stir-in Options:
cheese, herbs, paprika, pimenton, onion, butter, olive oil, etc.

Topping Options:
Dinner: marinara-type sauce, fried eggs, bratwurst, roasted veggies, wilted greens, mushroom ragu...
Breakfast: dried fruit, nuts, applesauce, honey [whatever you'd put on oatmeal]

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