Polenta with Tomato Sauce and Parmesan
The History - Tove
Many people return to comfort food in hard times. Some of us indulge in ice cream after breakups or make Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie when we’re a little homesick. But for European countries, comfort food is often the cuisine of the peasantry. It can be anything from a soup to salted fish or meats. In Southern Italy (and for many college students the world over) pizza and pasta Are the staples of the poor person's diet. For Italy’s Northerners, polenta was the main affair.
Though polenta today is made from cornmeal and has a look and texture similar to grits, many grains were used to make it in fifteenth century Northern Italy. According to * Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History* by Alberto Capatti and others, buckwheat was one of the original polenta grains. It made for a polenta with a “sharper taste and different color,” a polenta with as much nutritional value as possible.
But in the sixteenth century, the prices of meat in Italy began to rise. According to the Cambridge Histories of Food, under the Italian mezzadria or sharecropping system, the poverty of peasants made meat too expensive to include in their diets. They ate the polenta and almost nothing else.
Though delicious, cornmeal is not exactly a balanced diet. Without the B vitamin niacin, found mostly in animal proteins, 5-20% of the population died from a condition known as pellagra in some parts of Northern Italy. The symptoms are unpleasant and when left untreated can take up to four years to kill. Until the early 1900s, people believed pellagra was caused not by a diet consisting of solely cornmeal but of tainted maize. So the polenta craze continued.
Thankfully the people of Northern Italy have gained the ability and knowledge to branch out. The beauty of polenta resides in its versatility. It can be used in everything from bread to a porridge base—much like rice—to top with meats, sauces, or vegetables. Southern Italians sometimes mock Northerners for their overuse of the dish calling them polentoni or polenta eaters. In response, the Northerners called them mangia-maccheroni. (The Italians may need to work on their insults.)
Whether in a traditional recipe or used as a filler, polenta is a tasty and cheap base for any number of dishes.
The Recipe - Natasha
Say your room mate comes home from a long day of work -- it's her second day on the job -- and she's so famished and exhausted that you, in all your charitable glory, decide to make her dinner. Since it's an impromptu favor, you haven't the time or energy to go out and pick up a new bunch of ingredients. As you open the fridge, you're quickly confronted with items you seem to have forgotten about over any number of months. Expired milk, mealy tomatoes, and moldy hunks of cheese abound. You head to the cupboard in search of something--anything--that doesn't have a green layer of fur on it, only to find old jars of organic peanut butter that should have been refrigerated, dusty boxes of tea bags, old pancake mix and a container of popcorn kernels. A lone box of spaghetti holds 10 or 15 strands, which is not enough for one, let alone two. Just as you're ready to clasp your head between your hands, you remember something. Somewhere on the Internet, someone once told you to always, no matter what, have on hand a box of instant polenta, a jar of good tomato sauce, and some parmesan cheese. While you've never made a habit of listening to the Internet, this advice stuck.
And so, at the back of the highest shelf of your cupboard are the sacred ingredients for the quick, simple, pseudo-sophisticated meal that you and your pal will enjoy. After all, minuscule portions of saucy spaghetti (often found on the "kids menu") won't sound half as refined as polenta with parmesan and tomato sauce.Polenta with Parmesan and Tomato Sauce.
-Polenta (corn starch), slow-cooking or instant
-Parmesan cheese, fresh or from a jar
-A jar of good quality tomato sauce
-Salt, pepper, and butter to taste.
1. Follow cooking instructions on polenta box.
2. Follow cooking instructions on tomato sauce jar.
3. Mix cheese into cooked polenta, then add sauce, more cheese.
4. Add salt, pepper, and butter.