The traditional Abruzzi way to serve coarse ground polenta is sulla tavola, on a board. The polenta is cooked to a creamy consistency, poured on a board at the center of the table, and then topped with tomato sauce and finished with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese. Everyone digs in and eats until no more is left. Traditionally polenta is cooked in an unlined copper pot called a paiolo, found in every family home. When you want to prepare this dish quickly, use fine cornmeal; it takes 5 to 10 minutes to cook. It goes well with the Olive Oil and Mint Orange Salad, baked eggplant drizzled with olive oil and oregano, and Chianti.
- 8 cups (2 L) water
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 cups (325 g) medium-coarse polenta
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled, halved, and sliced (about 1½ cup)
- 3 (14-ounce or 400-g) cans diced tomatoes (42 ounces or 1,200 g)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- ½ ounce (15 g) dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water and finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
- ½ bunch chopped fresh basil leaves (about ½ cup)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese
Bring water and salt to a boil in a large pot over high heat.
Slowly add polenta in a steady stream, stirring continuously with a long wooden spoon.
Lower heat to a gentle boil and continue stirring 30 minutes or until polenta pulls away from the sides and is not gritty. You may need to use more water as it cooks. Use boiling water.
Cover pot with buttered waxed paper and place in a warm-water bath. Polenta stays hot up to 3 hours.
Make sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until onion begins to carmelize; stir in tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, uncovered, 15 minutes; stir in basil, salt, and pepper.
Pour hot polenta onto a clean, unfinished wooden table or a large chopping board, 18 x 18 inches (45 cm x 45 cm), and shape into a thick circle.
Make a 4-inch (10-cm) indent in the center, pour in tomato sauce, and sprinkle with cheese.
• Let cool and then slice into pieces for frying.
• Mix in diced mozzarella or fontina cheese.
• Use half water and half milk to make dish more flavorful.
• Cut into slices, put overlapping in buttered baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, and top with lots of grated Parmiggiano cheese. Bake at 400°F (200°C) until browned.