Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nancy Morgan
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Roger Mursick - Twisted Ironies
The Laughing Chef
  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive

November 22, 2006

Neglect: The Natural Enemy of Polenta


Making polenta is more than a choice about food. It is to take upon yourself the challenge of simplicity.


You are forewarned.


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.


When that point is reached, it is time to pour it into a greased pie plate and place into the refrigerator.


But, yes, 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.


You might 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.


This is 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.


Yet, the 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.


The name 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 meats.


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.


Into a 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.”


What you 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.


Here, you 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 okra-ocity.


When the juices have cooked down a little, add some sliced smoked sausage and thawed, cooked shrimp.


Cook these 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.


At this point, you’ve forgotten about your polenta. Neglect has treated it well, however, although it has taken on airs beyond its station.


It mistakes 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.


You will 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 like to.


Instead, 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.


To offer feedback on this column, click here.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # EB6. Request permission to publish here.