My Italian grandfather, who was a great maker of polenta called it "mush", as it was commonly eaten during Roman times. It seemed as though he stood at the stove for hours stirring and stirring until it was just the right consistency. No fancy sauces were put on this delicacy; it was just pored out hot onto a wooden board and you raced to dig right in before it disappeared. Later in life, Grandpa loosened from his traditional roots. He added red meat sauces and other salted meats; such as bacon or pancetta, and even anchovy to dress the polenta. He passed his pot on to me, so I ran with it and continue the family tradition today.
Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal and is often cooked in a huge copper pot, known as paiolo, for even heating. Traditionally polenta is a slowly cooked dish; it can take an hour or longer, and constant stirring is a must. Polenta has a smooth, creamy texture because of the gelatinization of the starch in the grain. The time, dedication and arm-stirring labor of traditional preparation methods has sparked the way for many shortcuts today. There is now instant polenta available from Italy that allows for quick cooking—kind-a-like instant grits, or there's fully cooked polenta in a tube that requires only slicing and reheating. I suggest reheating by grilling, roasting, sautéing or baking, then top with your own creative sauce. It may not be Grandpa’s, but if in a pinch, try it with my favorite recipe; grilled topped with a sauce of creamy gorgonzola and crispy pancetta.