Today's tip

Polenta is unbelievably versatile.

Polenta, the Italian version of Grits, is cornmeal cooked in water with seasonings until it reaches a dense, porridge-like texture. The one thing you do not want is lumps in your polenta; polenta, when cooked, should be smooth on the tongue. The beauty of polenta is not only its flavor but also its texture, and once it’s cooked you can eat it flowing and piping hot or let it cool and solidify. You can then bake it, fry it, or grill it.

It is unbelievably versatile. I could give you a thousand ways to enjoy it, because that’s how many ways we ate it while we were growing up. It is delicious poured into a bowl and served as is, or allowed to chill and sliced, at which point you can grill or fry it for the next day’s meal. You can even make a “mosaic” by folding diced cooked vegetables into the soft polenta, packing it into a loaf pan while it is still warm, then allowing it to chill. When you cut the chilled loaf into slices, the vegetables will form a mosaic and make an even prettier presentation when cooked.

Polenta can be runny or dense, it can be served as a side dish or an accompaniment to braised meat or fish stews to mop up the sauce with. I view polenta similarly to how I view pasta. Both serve as a means by which to carry so many flavors. When you have mastered the cooking process, it will remain a major part of your culinary repertoire.

When you make polenta at home you can be very free with your choice of flavors. Try substituting milk for half of the water. Butter or oil can be added as well as bay leaves, garlic and rosemary. Just be sure to remove them before serving. Grated or shredded cheese can be added during the last 10 minutes of cooking. And feel free to experiment with adding sausage or vegetables!