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.
Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated