Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Polenta: It Smells Like Home

One of the terms used to define people from Northern Italy (not really intended to be nice) is “polentoni” (“those who eat a lot of polenta”) and I, oh, so much take pride in it!

I assume most of you know what Polenta is, but for those who might not, it’s a dish made with cornmeal (yellow or white, finely or coarsely grounded depending on the taste and on the area where it’s prepared and consumed). Where I come from it is more about white, fine polenta, almost creamy. But I love it any way, any style.

Polenta has saved my people from starvation back in the days where there wasn’t much else to eat in the farms around Treviso and it was present every single evening on the dinner table, sometimes with a piece of cheese to go with it or eggs or whatever was available, very rarely meat, and it was meant to fill the hungry stomachs (and that, trust me, it does!) of those who had been working in the fields since dawn. Children loved to eat the crust that remained on the pot after polenta was cooked. It came off in pieces once the pot cooled down and I guess it tastes like your corn chips.
The leftovers were good for breakfast the next morning instead, with some milk, kind of what Americans do with grits. All that corn and very little else to go with it was not exactly healthy and it even brought a disease caused by the lack of other nutrients, “pellagra”, but, like I said, it still saved from starvation and led my people out of a time that was very hard on them.

Now Polenta is served even in very fine restaurants but to me it will always taste like home. Even if in my youth days, thank God, it was not as essential in our survival as it was in my grandparents’ time, it was still very popular and I ate (and loved) a lot of it. Of course I still love it but I don't eat it as much.

A friend of mine recently brought me a package of cornmeal from Storo, a little village in Trentino, a region close to the one I come from. Let me tell you: there is a reason why they call it “l’Oro di Storo” (Storo’s gold). It makes a wonderful polenta! Yellow and thicker than the one I am used to, but still delicious!
It takes between 30 and 40 minutes to cook a real polenta and I must say that last night I enjoyed all of them while making it. The little familiar gestures of stirring it that I hadn’t done in such long time, the scent of cooked corn, the sound (*plof!*) that a well cooked polenta makes when you pour it on a wooden board before portioning it…all of that almost got me emotional, last night!

I also treated my good polenta as it deserved, though: I made some beef ossobuco to go with it. Slowly cooked for 3 hours, till the meat was so tender it fell apart just by looking at it! I even opened a bottle of cabernet and I rarely drink wine by myself (I am married to a green tea kind of guy, figure that ;-) ). It was worth it: I went to bed very happy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Interview

Yeah, believe it or not, we had a journalist attending our dessert class with Betta!
Stefania, another Italian friend living in San Antonio, put together this radio interview to present the class. I think she did an amazing job, if you put up with our terrible English, but feel free to let me know your comments. As always they are highly appreciated.