The Natural Enemy of Polenta
polenta is more than a choice about food. It is to take upon yourself
the challenge of simplicity.
It is a
simple enough task. Boil five cups of water and slowly, steadily whisk
in one cup of corn meal, and continue whisking and stirring until the
mixture – which looks not unlike a coarse lemon pudding – becomes thick
enough to hold up a spoon.
point is reached, it is time to pour it into a greased pie plate and
place into the refrigerator.
here lurks danger. To take your mind off the slowly churning polenta is
to risk the harshest kitchen-related dangers. The mind becomes bored and
strays, perhaps wondering whether the milk has passed its expiration
date, perhaps wondering what case will land this week in the lap of
television’s Detective Adrian Monk. Upon its refocus on the polenta, you
find the pot filled with lumps of uncooked corn meal.
consider mashing the lumps against the side of the pot, and for a few
moments it might work. Eventually the work overwhelms, and you find
yourself in the middle of a most baleful fate – a lump cycle, where two
lumps become four, four become 16, and so on and so on until they
threaten to consume the entire world, or perhaps just ruin your dinner.
your danger, and to run afoul it is to fail in two regards – the failure
to follow simple instructions, and the failure to avoid failing.
person who successfully navigates the treacherous rocks and shoals of
mindless stirring has in his hands a foodstuff that is as flexible as it
is bland, for it can become the basic stuff of morning breakfast, or the
stuff over which a sauce is generously spooned.
polenta might evoke thoughts of Italy, perhaps of a small coastal
village, with warm evening breezes and fresh seafood. Indeed, it is an
Italian food, and it is most often associated with sauces or braised
Yet, let us
cover it in a sauce with the kick of Cajun to it. You will eat it, and
feel more worldly for having done so.
thick smear of oil simmering with the tasty goodness of garlic, add a
chopped green pepper, half a chopped onion and a few quartered
mushrooms. Heat and time will soften them and slightly change their
color. It is their way of saying, “Our time is finished. It is now time
to move on to the next step.”
will want is to apply juice to the bottom of the pan, by way of a
handful of chopped tomatoes and a healthy spritz of dried oregano. The
juice will run, and will rise like a small lake.
might wonder whether it is time to Cajun it up with some okra. Go right
ahead, I say. This is the time to let the heat slowly leach out its
juices have cooked down a little, add some sliced smoked sausage and
thawed, cooked shrimp.
until the shrimp turns pink and curls up, nice and cozy among the
pepper, onion, mushrooms and sausage. It is humbled, a willing member of
a happy ensemble.
point, you’ve forgotten about your polenta. Neglect has treated it well,
however, although it has taken on airs beyond its station.
the fact that it has stiffened to the consistency of spongy cheesecake
for its transformation to standalone dessert. Sadly, that is far from
the case. It cannot stand alone, for despite what’s in its heart, it’s
still just a slab of waterlogged corn meal.
want to take advantage of these pretensions, however. The idea of taking
advantage of a poor plate of polenta might tug at your sense of
sentimentality. Steel your heart, knowing that it would do no good to
inform it of its true reality. Permit it to meet its destiny as it would
cut it as though it were a pie. Allow it to leave with dignity, on a
plate and under a thick blanket of zesty goodness.
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