Polenta. The real thing. Soft and gooey, complemented by some flavorful attention getter. Like melted cheese inside and tomato sauce with sausages on top. We like it a lot and yet we never got around to trying it ourselves for so long. There is this mental warning label attached: patience required while you stir forever as it slowly cooks. We had it at Colleen's when she lived in New York and indeed it seemed pretty laborious. Valeria served it to us once in Rome and we missed the work, but the memory of the taste stuck in our memories. Mario took us to a terrific restaurant in Venice one foggy evening in January and we tried the polenta special. Yum. So why no spark of initiative on our part?
John and Gulnur finally set us an example, serving their soft polenta with a simple chicken in tomato sauce topping. Wow, it hit home again. But this time our complex carb radar went off. While bob used to be the mashed potato king in his youth, potatoes had been off the frequent use list for some time now with the new carb awareness of the household in the new century. But polenta is a whole grain mashed potato substitute! So when we were grousing around for an idea of a carb to pair with our pork chops one Saturday night a few days later, polenta popped into our imaginations. Hmm, we have some many year old corn meal hanging around in the dormant bread machine ingredient shelf of the pantry. Quaker Yellow Corn Meal in one of those round cardboard box containers like their famous oat meal my dad used all his adult life. We consult Marcella who recommends the coarse corn meal. Our box had no qualifiers. Seemed fine grained though. It would have to do because polenta was on the dinner menu by now and we did not want to leave the house to search for the real thing. But Marcella also mentioned a 50-50 cornmeal buckwheat flour mix polenta, so we decided to sexy up our unspecific US corn meal in a 75-25 ratio, using up the last remaining bit almost of our buckwheat flour supply languishing in the refrigerator waiting to flavor some pancakes or bread, but the bread machine had not been fired up for some years already.
We started out with about 3 1/2 c water for our 1 cup polenta mix and one of us slowly poured it into our nonstick pot while the other whisked it quickly to make a smooth glop. Which turned into a highly viscous still pretty smooth glop in only 5 minutes, which was way too soon for the standard cooking time of 45 minutes, surprising us considerably. We put it on low heat and got some water boiling in a teapot, and every 10 minutes or so added in maybe a half cup or less of boiling water and stirred it in to wake up our polenta, without which it would have stiffened up beyond our acceptable limits. The pork chops still had to finish cooking after all. The mushrooms were also waiting, since they were done pretty quick. So finally the chops were ready and as far as we were concerned, the polenta had been ready after 10 minutes. What is all that cooking time necessary for?
We assembled the dish. A bed of the grayish tinted polenta, followed by the mushrooms, a spoon of the tomato wine sauce from the chops on the mushrooms, and then the parsley-flecked pork chop placed carefully on top. bob pushed his on the side immediately to cut it up so we could have just as well put it there initially. It looked good. And it tasted good. The four people portions tempted bob to go for a double helping (it proved to be too much but resistance seemed futile), while ani went for a more reasonable smaller second portion. Success on the first try is a good sign, even without fancy authentic ingredients. Looks like we'll be doing polenta more frequently from now on.