I learned about polenta when I married Ditalini. It was what you ate when you were poor, or when you were tired of pasta and wanted something different. Sometime during the 1980s polenta became trendy and today you can find it on upscale restaurant menus.
All it is is ground cornmeal, cooked into a thick mush with salt and water. You can serve it with sauce for an authentic Italian family meal. You can fry leftover polenta in butter and serve it with eggs for breakfast. You can cut slices of polenta, let them cool and harden, and grill them outdoors to serve with Italian sausage, vegetables, or artichokes. It’s great stuff.
Bring lightly salted water to a boil, then slowly stir in polenta meal with a whisk. When the polenta is well blended, reduce heat to low, then stir with a long wooden spoon or polenta paddle. Ditalini says you need to stir the polenta frequently as it cooks, and I wouldn’t dare try to let it just sit and cook on its own, though I’ve heard that other people do it that way.
Polenta needs to cook about two hours. It’ll form a crust along the sides and bottom of the pot, and that’s when you know it’s done.
Lay out a dishtowel and invert the pot over it so that the cooked polenta falls onto the towel. Shape the polenta into a loaf with the edges of the towel, then fold the edges of the towel over the polenta and let it cool.
To serve, slice off pieces of polenta and transfer to a plate. We normally top the polenta slices with polenta cheese (yes, there is such a thing) or mozzarella, then spoon Italian meat sauce over the top. Leftover polenta gets saved for breakfast or for an Italian family barbecue.