I was pretty sure I knew everything there was to know about making polenta (or as the Southern husband calls it, fancy grits). Some coarse cornmeal, some boiling water, some salt, a little butter and you are in business, right?
It turns out there is a better way. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
I learned that the secret to really amazing, creamy polenta is…baking soda. It has something to do with the cell walls of the cornmeal and breaking them down faster, and pectin, and starch granules…I am a little fuzzy on the whole thing. But Cooks Illustrated told me to make it this way, and since they are basically the Holy Grail when it comes to cooking just about anything, I tried it…and they were (as usual) absolutely right. The polenta cooked up faster and was incredibly smooth and creamy. I mixed in a little butter and Parmesan cheese, and topped the whole thing with a quick saute of garlic, cherry tomatoes, basil and chopped fresh mozzarella. It was speedy and comforting and wonderful.
Old dog. New tricks. Woof!
- 7½ cups water
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- Pinch of baking soda
- 1½ cups coarse cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Pinch of sugar
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- Bring water to boil, stir in salt and baking soda. Slowly pour in cornmeal in steady stream, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover.
- After 5 minutes, whisk polenta to smooth out lumps, cover and cook without stirring until polenta is tender, about 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter and Parmesan, season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, make sauce by heating oil, garlic, pepper flakes and sugar in skillet over medium high heat for one minute. Stir in tomatoes and cook until they soften, about one more minute.
- Season to taste and remove from heat.
- Spoon tomato mixture with any accumulated juices over polenta, top with mozzarella and sprinkle with basil before serving.
Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated