Samuel Muston: A hug on a plate - my paean to polenta

 

Opening a new restaurant is often a quick way for rich people to lose money. It is a gamble opening your doors to the public, just like playing poker. But as with cards, there are ways to hedge your bets. The cautious restaurateur might tend towards well-worn concepts such as the burger joint, for instance, or the fried-chicken shop.

Braver souls, though, plough their own furrow. The owners of the newly opened La Polenteria in Soho are defiantly in the second camp, for this is the first restaurant in town dedicated solely to polenta.

If course, single-item restaurants are nothing new. They fill the high street and tend to do well for their owners (see aforementioned burger and chicken purveyors). But they don't usually serve something so divisive as polenta. You see, the slow-cooked dish of maize cleaves opinion like a Justin Bieber concert. You either love it or loathe it – and ever has it been so.

The steaming starch has been a diet staple since Caligula was in charge, and you can bet people still hated it back then as well. To some, it is merely mush, an inelegant mess which teeters too close to porridge. For others, such as Marcella Hazan, the Italian cookbook queen, eating it is "like receiving the sacrament". In Piedmont in northern Italy, they traditionally ate so much of it they were known as "the polentone". While in 19th century Paris, there was a society for its advancement, the ordine dei polentoni, which numbered Émile Zola and the painter Giuseppe De Nittis among its members.

You may notice that I dwell on its champions, rather than its detractors. That is because I adore polenta. Not just because it is full of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and B6; nor that it sustained our ancestors through pinching winters. But rather because, to me, it speaks of comfort, and relaxation, too.

Let me blunt: if you don't like it, you've probably never tasted proper polenta. Go to Bologna and try it with meaty ragu, you may fall in love. Or head to Venice, go all out, and order it with quail eggs and truffle. Or else just stay at home, in the comfort of your kitchen, and grill some cooked stuff with gorgonzola. Do what you want with it, just never eat the quick-cook stuff. It is fit only for tiling.

There are one thousand and one methods for making it at home. Some people counsel cooking it in milk, still others cream. But the most reliable method is the simplest. Bring a pan of water to the boil, gently pour in the maize (the ratio should be water to maize 5:1 for soft polenta; 4:1 for hard). Whisk it for five minutes after you have added it, then turn the heat down low.

Let it bubble gently. Stir every five minutes – don't let it stick to the pan. The way to find out if it is done is to taste it. When the grains are swollen and soft, it is ready. The rest is up to you. Grill it, mix it with cheese, stir in butter, or just eat it greedily in one sitting. The possibilities are endless.

Know this, though, it is a dish which knows no urgency. But that is half the pleasure of it. Seldom does the preparation of any food so light up a kitchen. The steam and the bubbles and the stirring – together they seem to wave away winter blues. Sure, it will take up your time, and a tiny bit of your concentration, but what you get in return is a hug on a plate and, on dark days like these, who wants more?

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam