The fabulous dish of polenta has leapt in popularity around the world from its humble beginnings as a peasant staple of Northern Italy. Most people immediately think of yellow cornmeal when talking of polenta, and indeed this is the most popular variety. However, originally polenta referred to a porridge made out of pretty much any grain or pulse.
Apart from regular yellow cornmeal polenta, these days the most common types include polenta taragna, which is a blend of fine cornmeal and buckwheat flour, very popular in the Valtellina Valley of Lombardy, and polenta bianca, or white polenta. This interesting variation is just regular cornmeal that has been ground from white varieties of corn. The taste is quite similar to regular polenta, but it does make a nice visual change. Of course - you can easily substitute regular polenta instead.
Taleggio is a wonderfully soft cheese originating in the Taleggio Valley, north of Bergamo. It is quite rich, at 48% fat, but it has fantastic melting properties and a delightfully salty tang. When mixed into the hot polenta at the last minute, this cheese gently melts adding extra depth to the finished dish, and as taleggio is pale white in colour, it blends perfectly with the white polenta. If tallegio is hard to find, many other good melting cheeses can be used instead. Parmigiano would be a first choice, and fontina would work wonderfully as well.
This polenta is designed to be quite soft and runny, rather than the dense versions that set hard and can be cut into slabs for a secondary cooking. I was recently partnering this polenta with rib-stickingly rich slow-braised veal shanks - making it perfect for cold weather dinners. You could also use it alongside your favourite Italian slow cooked meat dish, or even some warm eggplant salad if you want to keep things vegetarian.
1 litre (4 cups) water
120 - 150 gm¹ (4 - 5 oz) white polenta (or use regular polenta)
2 Tbs garlic oil
50 gm (2 oz) butter
100 gm (4 oz) taleggio cheese
50 gm (2 oz) grated parmesan cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium sized heavy-based saucepan, bring the water and garlic oil to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the polenta slowly, and in a thin stream, stirring well with a wooden spoon. Start of by using only 100 gm, using the remainder later if necessary. You are looking for the polenta to be a nice and soft "dolloping" consistency. Continue stirring the polenta for around 20 minutes, over a low-medium heat, until it starts to come away from the side of the pot. Cut the rind away from the taleggio cheese and dice into small cubes. Add to the polenta with the parmesan, butter, salt and pepper. Stir well, and taste for seasoning. Try not to fully melt the taleggio, as it is nice if there are tiny bits of melting cheese in the mixture.
Spoon out onto waiting plates with your favourite rich meat dish, a nice salad and a bottle of savoury Italian red wine, such as a sangiovese or barolo.
¹ Different polentas have different water absorption capacities, hence the discrepancy in the weight given. Start off with the lower amount and add extra if the polenta is too thin.