Wow, I had no idea upon looking up polenta’s past that it had such a long and rich history! Let’s start what polenta is—it is a thick porridge, best known for its preparation from cornmeal, though other grains (or potatoes) may be used. There are many different ways to prepare polenta, and in certain regions it can even be found as a dessert.
As pointed out in our Sunday Pasta recipe this week, it has been a staple to Northern Italy for quite some time. How much time? Glad you asked. Here is my segue into its lengthy account (although I am going to keep mine short and sweet).
Polenta is several thousand years old and was originally derived from puls or pulmentum. In Roman times, polenta was a staple and it would be eaten much like today. In its earliest days, polenta was made from grain usually millet or spelt, a primitive form of wheat or faro (a popular Italian grain).
Most people associate Italian food with pasta and pizza and forget polenta. Polenta is a fundamental food in northern Italy, however it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. In fact, it may have a history much more ancient than either pizza or pasta.
It is said that Roman soldiers who were rationed two pounds of grain would toast the grain on a hot stone oven fire, crush it, and store it. Later they would grind the grain and boil it to form porridge. They would consume it in this form or allow it to harden into a semi-leavened cake.
As life allowed more occupation in fields, those first professional cooks emerged and started something that is still going on today—making polenta—in its many various forms.
Check out our recipe for Polenta e Porri and our wine pairings to compliment the dish.
Donna Picciocchi, Editor