Tag Archives: polenta

At the polentoteca in Varese

Polenta alla spinaOn our arrival in Varese New Year’s Day, slightly lost and looking for the B&B, we walked past the polentoteca and said “Ooohhhh…..” It was closed, but we took note: we wanted northern Italian food on this trip, and the menu looked amazing. Polenta is not something you see so much on Rome menus: it demands cold weather, ruggedness, skiing trips. Or just being very hungry. And here the sign said polenta alla spina, polenta on tap…… So this was Friday night dinner.

Polenta menuChoices, choices…….. The cheese ones sounded amazing. The owner explained that those are served with a layer of polenta, then cheese, then polenta. “La gorgonzola e nata per morire nella polenta!” (The gorgonzola is born to die in polenta…..). You can choose between classic polenta and taragna polenta, which is the one below. It is a fast food place, but the food was amazing! Really friendly as well, and in the center of Varese.

Taragna polentaThe taragna polenta is darker, due to inclusion of a local saracen wheat. It’s buckwheat, like they use for pizzocheri in Valtellina. Lovely flavour! This polenta was made at a local mill, stone ground. Very good with cheeses, or with lardo, or with sugar, we were told. I was very tempted by the Nutella or honey dessert option.
Capriolo e funghi trifolatiI had capriolo e funghi trifolati, roe deer and mushrooms, which was just wonderful, on taragna polenta. My husband had gulash Trentino with funghi porcini, on classic polenta, which was also superb. Excellent beer as well.

Polenta is solid food. We could not finish our plates, and got our leftovers wrapped in foil to eat for lunch the next day. Too good to waste. Wonderful conversation with the owner about polenta. He was bemused why we had chosen to come to Varese, especially when living in Rome. We explained that we had heard about the Sacro Monte, wanted some days near mountains but in not a ski resort, without many foreign tourists, with different food and easy to reach by train. After visiting Foggia we have had great trips to places like this, and Varese was very pleasant indeed. 52 minutes by regional train from Milano (Porta Garibaldi).


And this is the taragna polenta from Mulino Bernasconi, in Malnate (just outside Varese), with buckwheat.
Taragna polenta Now we are back in Rome, after bringing back some puff pastry camels for dessert last night, and the first loads of laundry are drying in the afternoon sun. Last day of my holidays, and we have finally unpacked and caught up with Christmas cards and news. Tomorrow is the Epiphany, the giorno della Befana and a public holiday in Italy. I’m packing away tinsel and suitcases and looking forward to cooking again. With polenta and gorgonzola from Varese, and paella spices and chorizo from Spain, there are lots of options. Good to be home again!


Easy sourdough polenta bread rolls for Sunday lunch

20140413-115840.jpgIt is a quiet Sunday morning in Rome, and we have a lunch invitation from friends with a private garden. Private gardens are rare here, as most of us live in flats, and even a large terrace is a luxury, though in most films set in Rome everyone seems to have rooftop terraces with stunning views. We like our little balcony, where I grow herbs and dry laundry, and where friends can smoke and watch the traffic.

Still, on a sunny spring like today, it will be glorious to go out for lunch, to drink prosecco in the sun, while the barbecue sizzles and we enjoy the company of good friends. They live near the Appia Antica, so we may end up there later. I should probably excavate some sunscreen, and a hat. As my contribution, I am bringing these easy sourdough polenta bread rolls.

Easy sourdough polenta bread rolls for Sunday brunch

100g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration, this one was rye/wheat based)
30g coarse rye flour
70g polenta
50g wholewheat flour
350g plain flour (here, 00)
350g water
5g salt (add after half an hour)

For baking, a little poppyseeds or mixed seeds

The evening before: mix the ingredients, and stir. Cover bowl with a shower cap. Leave for half an hour, then add salt and fold dough in bowl (a spatula or spoon works for me). Enjoy dinner and a couple old episodes of Black Books, and fold the dough a few more times. You will see the dough developing structure, and increasing slightly in volume. This is a typical 500g flour/350-400g water recipe, it generally works for both yeast and sourdough baking. More water may be needed, depending on the flours used. I added polenta this time, just for a little extra crunch.

Here’s the dough after a night in the fridge. And that’s my starter in the jar in the back, fed yesterday — I just do 50g or so, then feed before baking, without discarding extra starter – it seems to work. I’ve been leaving it unrefrigerated more, which seems to improve it, and baking smaller batches of bread. Anyway, back to the bread rolls:

Divide the dough in half, and roll it into a rough sausage shape. It will be quite sticky. Using a spatula or knife, divide each roll into 6-7 pieces. You could roll these into a nice tight shape, using more flour, but I wanted a more rustic type roll and just dolloped then onto a baking sheet with baking parchment. Optional: sprinkle some seeds on the rolls, pressing down slightly so they do not fall off. Let rolls rise 20 min or so while oven heats up.

Bake at 230C for 20-25 minutes or so, in the middle of the oven, until they look golden and sound hollow when tapped from below. These took about 25 min, a bit longer than expected, but done they are and off to lunch we now go, with piping hot rolls (and sunscreen….)

20140413-122912.jpgA very good Sunday to you all!

Notes: I started the dough last night, you could swap out the sourdough with 1 dry yeast and make it the same way. I added seeds to only half the bread rolls, as there will be small children present at the lunch who are not fond of seeded bread.


Plums baked with oatmeal-polenta topping

What to make for dessert? A friend was on her way for dinner, and I had vaguely planned on a quick cake with plums, or a plum clafoutis (a flognarde!) – but had no eggs in the house. That hardly ever happens, but it has been such a busy week, and I am knackered and behind on so many things. Still, where there is desire for dessert, there is always a way. Nothing too heavy or sweet, as this friend is careful about calories, but I thought a scaled-down crumble-inspired baked plum dessert might work. Nothing like an impromptu dessert concoction to lift one’s spirits as well, it is so satisfying to assemble bits and pieces and have something quite nice to enjoy. Low-fat plain yoghurt on the side was nice and tart.

Are these Italian plums not gorgeous? “Italian plums….” I thought, initially reaching for flour. Maybe polenta in the jar next to the flour would work as well? To continue the Italian theme; just a little, for crunch? So polenta went in, not the flour.


Plums baked with oatmeal-polenta topping

9-10 plums stoned and halved, enough to cover the base of your dish
Two tablespoons of jam, optional
40 grammes oatmeal
30 grammes brown sugar
30 grammes polenta
30 grammes butter, slightly softened
Pinch of salt
For serving: plain low-fat yoghurt

Wash plums, halve and stone them. Layer the plum halved with cut side up in the base of a baking dish. Mix ingredients for topping, sprinkle over the plum halves. Bake at 200C for 25 minutes or so. Serve hot, with a little yoghurt or such on the side if you like.

A little of various topping ingredients……

Halved plums with a couple spoons of grape coulis (yes, the runny grape jam from earlier this summer. The jam was just for a bit of moisture and to avoid using more sugar.
Topping spread on, and voila – dessert!
And after dessert, life is always just a little bit better, don’t you think?