Polenta is to Italy what Mashed Potatoes are to America, the ultimate Comfort Food. Both are derived from humble inexpensive ingredients, able to be transformed in countless ways from bland to Oh, My, God good.
Comfort Foods Are Economical
We’re talking the kind of good that usually only comes from Mamma or for us Americans, Mom. Polenta is one of my pantry must haves because frankly it’s cheap. Polenta requires nothing more than water and salt to make. Plus, polenta is hearty and with just a few add-ins from cheese and butter to herbs it’s a complete meal.
Knowing how economical Polenta is, imagine my surprise and delight to find Polenta Concia on a Michelin Guide stalwart Miniere Restaurant in Traversella Italy. Their Polenta Concia with Tome and 10 Herbs was every bit the savory cheese laden dish I have come to love. The addition of locally foraged fresh herbs added an earthiness. Plus they used enough butter, I melted.
The food across the board was outstanding, which is in no way unusually for Michelin rated restaurants in small towns throughout Italy.
One story came from a very sweet woman named Angela Carbonetti. It so encapsulated the joy in memories of Comfort Food that I asked her if I could share it. Thankfully, she agreed!
On any given Saturday at 8 Angell Street the number of children sitting around the kitchen table far outnumbered the adults. It was the one day of the week that my cousins came to my parents’ home for lunch. And in the cold winter weather we were comforted by polenta. My Mom would place her wooden pastry board atop the round kitchen table and my Dad would pour the polenta from the stock pot onto the board. He would carefully tilt the board this way and that to evenly spread the polenta and my Mom would ladle her sugo onto it. Once that was done, she would put her homemade meatballs, my Dad’s homemade sweet and spicy sausages, some pork, and the braciola in the center of the board. My cousins and I would then sit at the table and, with our forks and spoons in each hand, would gently tap then on the table as my Dad counted down from 10. When he said, “Go!” we all knew it was time to start our individual progression towards the middle, because whomever got to the middle first, got their choice of the meat. The key was that we could never eat toward the middle in a direct line. From time to time, my Dad would say, “Stop!” and he’d go around the table and ask each of us, from our perspective, what the polenta resembled. One of us thought that it looked like the shape of a horse, another thought it looked like the shape of Italy, yet another thought it looked like a cloud. I cannot recall ever being the one who got to the center first, but what I can recall is how much fun I had having polenta with my cousins in the kitchen at 8 Angell Street.
Funny how Comfort Food always comes with stories no? That’s half their power, their ability to transport you back home, to childhood. The very thought of a dish so profoundly comforting, any storyteller can’t help but get that far off look and at some point, end up smiling and closing their eyes trying to taste the memory.
Sincere thanks to Angela for sharing her story and her love of Polenta with us.