I prefer to use a coarse, stone-ground cornmeal that takes about 40 minutes to cook. Many stores now carry an instant cornmeal that is done in 5 minutes. It is very good and worth seeking out.
Polenta can be cooked an hour or more before serving it. It will stay hot and spoonable in a tightly covered pan placed over a larger pan partially filled with simmering water. Stir in additional hot water if it becomes too thick.
Like molten lava, polenta firms up as it cools. The firm polenta can be sliced, then fried, grilled, or baked. To cut off neat slices, a long piece of sturdy string (unflavored dental floss is perfect) can be slid underneath the polenta, then lifted through it. A dull knife works just as well.
Soft polenta is eaten as a side dish, or topped with a sauce or stew. Families in Italy often have a special round board for serving polenta. I generally pour the polenta onto a platter, press a shallow indentation in the top, then pour on a stew or ragù.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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