Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Polenta, an often-overlooked Italian staple

Pizza and pasta may grab all the headlines when it comes to Italian cuisine, but there’s a third dish beginning with ‘p’ that deserves just as much attention – polenta. 
Like many Italian staples, its roots are in the hands of creative peasants, who devised many clever recipes and dishes, designed to make a little go a long way, without sacrificing flavor. 
Polenta is a simple dish, made only from cereal (most commonly corn) and water. Thankfully, farming techniques have improved greatly since Roman times, and the husky biscuits and porridge the Romans ‘enjoyed’, along with the buckwheat and maize varieties 15th and 16th century Italians ate, are a thing of the past. Today, made with coarse corn flour or cornmeal, polenta is smoother, and richer tasting. 
Perhaps one of the reasons polenta has never quite achieved the success of pasta and pizza internationally is the comparative trickiness of preparing it. While pasta can pretty much be left to cook once made and in the pan, and pizza takes care of itself once in the oven, polenta needs constant stirring and attention to stop it sticking to the pot and burning. It may ruin its chances in many restaurants, but for authentic Italian cooks, polenta really is a labor of love, and one worth tracking down in the region.