Polenta Recipe: Ticino’s favorite peasant dish.
Everyone in Ticino eats polenta. And that’s understandable given its long history in the region. But it’s also delicious, if you’re willing to take your time and have the right ingredients.
Polenta, an ancient boiled mixture made from a variety of ground starchy grains or chestnuts, was a staple of the farmers and rural communities in northern Italy and southern Switzerland for centuries.
Before corn was introduced in the 1500s, ground wheat, chickpeas, millet, barley, buckwheat, and chestnuts were used to make the warm mush. Over time, corn—both white and yellow—became the preferred ingredient. Polenta, welcome at any meal throughout the day, is typically served as a soft warm porridge or allowed to cool and be cooked a second time by baking or pan-frying to give it a crispy edge.
Its versatility and popularity has insured that you’ll still find it served in Ticinese kitchens and on the menus of many fine restaurants, often blended with various cheese or herbs.
Polenta is easy to make, but requires patience and practice to get it just right. Polenta is not fast food. Done right, it takes a long time to cook, usually an hour or more, and requires near-constant stirring.
A quick-cooking instant polenta mix is commercially available, but locals consider it inferior to the slow-cooked version made from unprocessed, freshly ground corn flour.
Classic Polenta from Ticino
This is a traditional family recipe from the 19th century
2 liters salted water (about 4 to 5 times as much water to corn flour)
500g corn flour (freshly ground, of course)
Salt to t
Boil 1 liter of salted water in a copper pot over the fire in the fireplace,
setting another liter aside to add during cooking.
Sprinkle in 250 grams of polenta flour, stirring well with a long
After 15 minutes, gradually add the rest of the water.
Continue for about an hour, until the mixture is completely cooked.
Adjust salt. Pour out the polenta onto a wooden board and when
firm cut it into slices using yarn. Serve warm.
Yield: 6 generous servings
NOTE: Don’t have all the ancient tools? You’ll be fine. You can use a stock pot instead of a copper kettle, a stove instead of an open wood-burning fire, a spoon instead of a stick, pour it into a casserole dish instead of on to a wooden board, and use a knife instead of piece of yarn. You will still get a good batch of classic polenta. But you must admit, it does sound fun to cook it according to the ancient tradition.
ANOTHER NOTE: At dinner, it is usually served with a slow-cooked meat stew or is topped with some fragrant Ticinese cheese that will melt into the polenta. Delizioso!