A historically delicious, nutritious dish

Polenta is delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to sauces, stews and leftovers. Here crispy polenta fingers are shown with a ragu of leftovers–in this case, butternut squash and bacon.


Story and photos by Katherine Larson
Ah, winter! Snow! Skiing and snowshoeing and ice-fishing! And then, for supper, something hot and nourishing and delicious to help us thaw out.

Polenta is this month’s candidate for that hot, nourishing, delicious dish. Tasty on its own, it becomes even better with one of the myriad accompaniments that make it utterly delicious.

Utterly delicious seems an odd description for what has been unkindly called an Italian version of cornmeal mush. Yet it’s apt, as you may already know or as you’ll find when you try it. And, anyway, what’s wrong with cornmeal mush? Humans have been nourished for thousands of years on warming porridges made from ground grain.

It started at least 9,000 years ago. In Mesopotamia, people domesticated grains like barley and wheat; at the same time, in the Americas, people domesticated corn.

As for Italy, archaeological finds from Sardinia include barley and the tools for making it into mush from at least 5,000 years ago. The ancient Romans liked spelt but also used millet, farro, chestnut flour, and chickpea flour. Buckwheat arrived in the area from Asia in the 13th century and was promptly incorporated into the region’s polenta, a word which arrived into Italian through Latin which in turn got it from Proto-Indo-European. This dish has been around a long time…


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