Making polenta the traditional way

Italians eat pasta every day right? Well in some regions they also eat polenta every day. In Northern Italy polenta was a daily staple even before pasta became more common place.

Corn flour has always been so plentiful, so easy to grow and cheaper than wheat flour that’s why it has always been known as “poor man’s food” the essence of the Italian “cucina povera”.

My mum, who grew up eating polenta every morning for breakfast with milk (freshly milked from her own cows), is a true polenta aficionada. She will eschew ‘quick cook’ polenta and make a proper full bodied wholemeal polenta which takes about one hour to cook.

I prefer the rustic and hearty texture of wholemeal polenta. I found that often outside of Italy people have never come across real polenta. In shops you may often find instant ones which cook in 10 minutes but taste just like semolina. Maybe that’s OK if you don’t have much time on your hands though and you want something quick to go with your fish or meat.

When I saw these guys at a local festival in Italy I could not resist taking some photographs.

These people come from the mountains of Friuli in Northern Italy where polenta is being consumed even more frequently than we do down in the valley. In the mountains they have delicious mushrooms and wild meats like game which go fantastically with the polenta.

They were making polenta on a traditional stove which has a hole in the middle which fits perfectly the polenta pot. As a child my parents used to have one like that too.

First they bring some water to the boil.

Pouring water to make polenta

Then when the water is boiling they add salt and the polenta flour in a constant but gradual stream stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Adding salt

They stir constantly to avoid lumps

stirring polenta

This is the traditional pot used to make polenta, sturdy and solid.

Traditional polenta pot

Look at the long wooden spoon, this is what you should use to stir polenta.

How to cook polenta

Polenta takes about 1 hour to cook. Then you turn it upside down on a large wooden dish (these are made just for the polenta and are usually round although the one you see here is square).

How to cook polenta

Now every child who has grown up in Northern Italy will remember waiting for mum or grandma to scrape off the polenta pot…

Scraping polenta pot

And the wait was worth it! Those crunchy, super fresh chips which tasted much much better than any industrial version full of flavour enhancers and salt.

Polenta chips

When polenta was ready the ladies dressed in a traditional Friulian mountain costume were busy taking trays full of delicious meat to be served with the freshly made polenta.

Polenta and meat

Posing for the camera.. I’ d love a costume like that!

Girls in traditional Friulian costume

And here he is my dairy man, my friend Luigino who I have featured before on my blog when he made Montasio cheese and also I went to visit his farm. He made fresh cheese and we could all have a taste of it.

Grazie Luigino! 🙂

Luigino the dairy man

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7 Responses to Making polenta the traditional way

  1. la cucina di Molly

    Che belle foto Alida, hai ragione da noi nel sud Italia siamo abituati a consumare più pasta che polenta. Io la preparo più spesso da quando mio fratello si è trasferito giù in Puglia, lui ha vissuto ha Bologna e molte sue pietanze preferite del nord me le fa preparare, sai è un buongustaio! Immagina che quel cucchiaione ce l’ho anch’io, un regalo di mio fratello! Comunque la polenta è davvero buona! Un abbraccio!

  2. speedy70

    Polenta… io ne sono praticamente dipendente, sarà che da buona bergamasca, non manca mai sulle nostre tavole!

  3. Elisabetta

    I love a traditionally cooked polenta but I’m afraid I cook with the instant one – shame on me! What a lovely post. By sheer coincidence I’ve seen short documentaries of Friuli on tv last week. Breathtaking views, delicious food and nostalgic customs. Alida please give us more of your traditional recipes and stories!!

    • Alida

      Thanks Elisabetta, I am hoping to visit more farmers on my region. I love doing that!

  4. Dottie Sauchelli Balin

    Dear Alida,
    This is a very interesting post. When I was young my parents didn’t make much polenta. My grandmothers family from Calabria made it more, but my dad family is from Sicily and they did not make it. So it was never a staple in my house. But I love it and I have made it many times. I love to see your posts on the traditional ways of cooking from the old ways. So interesting how they make it in that big pot with that large spoon. Thanks for sharing this post, always enjoy your stories away from the kitchen. Have a good rest of the week…
    Dottie 🙂

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