A Celebration of Polenta ‘Pulendina’
The small town of Vernio, nearby Prato in the Tuscan region of Italy, is preparing to host the traditional Polenta Festival, better known as Festa della Polenta or, as the locals call it, “Pulendina.”
The festival is one of the most popular in the area and stems from the 1512 famine the town suffered while under Spanish rule.
During this famine, members of the noble Bard family gave hungry residents polenta so they would not starve. The Festa della Polenta originated to celebrate this gracious deed and has evolved into a time-honored tradition of the Prato region. In addition to many varieties of polenta offered, the event features a medieval pageant with over 500 participants along the town streets.
In honor of this famed Tuscan festival, below are some polenta recipes so that you too can celebrate one of Italy’s favorite dishes, especially good during the cold months ahead.
Baked Polenta Pie
Yield: Serves 6
To make the tomato sauce:
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1/2 onion, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 (14.5 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
• 1/8 tsp fennel seed
• 1/2 tsp dried basil
• 1/2 tsp dried oregano
• Dash of crushed red pepper
• Pinch of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the polenta pie:
• 1 small zucchini, chopped
• 1 small yellow squash, chopped
• 1/2 small eggplant, chopped
• 1 small red pepper, chopped
• Drizzle of olive oil
• Salt and pepper, to season vegetables
• 1 cup polenta
• 3 cups milk
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 tsp sugar
• 1/2 tsp coarse salt
• 1 cup freshly grated
• 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Preparation: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add onion and cook for 5 min, or until tender. Stir in garlic, tomatoes, fennel seed, basil, oregano, and red pepper. Season with salt and black pepper and let simmer for about 30 min over low heat.
While the sauce is simmering, roast the vegetables. Place zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and red pepper on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Roast for 25-30 min, or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are done roasting, set aside to cool and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
In a large pot, bring the milk, butter, sugar and salt to a light simmer. Slowly add the polenta to the pot, whisking constantly. Once it starts to thicken, trade the whisk out for a spoon and stir until the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pot. Add half of the Parmigiano cheese to the polenta and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a 2 qt casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Top with the other half of the Parmigiano.
Evenly spread the roasted vegetables on top of the polenta. Spread tomato sauce over vegetables and top with grated mozzarella cheese. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30-35 min, or until bubbly and the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Let rest for about 10 min. Cut into squares and serve warm.
Creamy Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms
Yield: Serves 4
For the roasted mushrooms:
• 1 lb Baby Bella mushrooms,
stems removed and cut in half
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• Salt and black pepper, to taste
• ¼ cup chopped fl at leaf Italian parsley
For the creamy polenta:
• 2 cups milk
• 1ó cups water
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• . cup stoneground polenta (not instant)
• 2 tbsp butter
• 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Extra Parmigiano cheese for serving
Preparation: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place mushrooms in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add in garlic and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Spread mushrooms evenly onto a large greased baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 min or until mushrooms are tender, stirring once. Remove from the oven and stir in parsley.
While the mushrooms are roasting, make the polenta. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, water, and salt over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. When it simmers, slowly pour in the polenta and whisk to combine. Reduce heat to low and partially cover the pan with a lid and cook, whisking vigorously every 5 min. Make sure you scrape the sides of the pan. Cook until liquid is absorbed and polenta is creamy, about 30 min total. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and Parmigiano cheese.
Divide the polenta into four bowls. Top with roasted mushrooms and garnish with cheese. Serve immediately.
Grilled Polenta Cakes
Yield: Serves 8-10
• 1 tube polenta, removed from casing, cut into 1/2 -in slices, and patted dry with paper towels
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Cooking spray
• 1 cup of your favorite tomatosauce
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Pinch of sea salt
• 1/2 cup basil, chopped
• Cracked pepper
Preparation: Brush both sides of the polenta cakes with the olive oil, and set aside.
Heat a grill pan until really hot. Lay the polenta cakes in one layer on the pan, and grill for 8-10 min on each side or until both sides are golden and crunchy and have grill marks.
Remove the cakes from the grill and let cool on a baking rack.
Just before you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the grilled polenta cakes on the baking sheet. Place a heaping tbsp of your favorite tomato sauce on each slice, then add a generous amount of freshly grated cheese to each. Bake for 15 min.
Garnish with fresh chopped basil, sea salt, and cracked pepper, and serve warm.