The history of polentas can be traced back to the initial days of Italian cooking. The earliest Italian settlers began to prepare compound dishes that were a combination of more than one ingredient and polentas was the first in the number of those dishes. The scheme of cooking has preserved until today - polentas made by mixing water with kernels of wild grasses to form a crude paste, which was toasted and dropped on a hot stone. Polentas belongs to so-called tapas dishes. Therefore, polentas was Northern Italy's basic foodstuff long before Columbus brought corn to Europe. Now there are many variants of polentas - of grain cooked in water, millet, buckwheat or common chick-peas or broad beans.
Polentas is made with either coarsely, medium, or finely ground dried yellow or white cornmeal (ground maize), depending on the region and the texture desired. There are many different types of polentas, such as basic or soft polentas. Formerly a peasant food, polentas has recently become quite upscale, with polentas dishes in restaurants and prepared polentas found in supermarkets commanding high prices. Many new recipes have given new meaning to an item which is, in essence, a fairly bland and common food, invigorating it with various cheeses or tomato sauces.
In northern Italy there are many different ways to cook polenta. The most famous Lombard polentas dishes are polentas uncial, polentas conical, polentas e gorgonzola, and misruling e polentas - all differ in the stuffing - type of cheese and butter, except the last one, which is cooked with fish. It can also be cooked with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, as in the Venetian poenta e osei, with poultry and even small birds.
Traditionally, polentas is a slowly cooked dish, sometimes taking an hour or longer to cook. This has led to a profusion of shortcuts in cooking technique, while many cookbooks claim that nowadays it takes only seven minutes to cook any kind of polentas. Nevertheless, instant and precooked polentas have become popular in Italy and elsewhere.
Cooked polentas can also be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks and fried until it is golden brown and crispy. Polenta began to replace bread and pasta. Each region developed its own variations in accordance with available ingredients. Polenta was always cooked in a payola - a large copper cauldron hanging over the fire in an open fire place- just as we see in historic films. In fact, Spanish restaurants of the highest quality still use this method of polentas cooking. Well, when the water in the cauldron comes to the boil, the corn meal is sprinkled into it. Then begins the hard work - equipped with an olio di gomito, well oiled elbow a long wooden stick, cooks stir it continuously for the polenta had to be - and that is really not an easy task.
Once the Polenta begins to curl away from the sides of the saucepan, it is tipped out onto a wooden board and sliced with a piece of string. It is usually eaten when still warm instead of bread. Polenta can also be served as a first course meal a little butter and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, fresh vegetables and any kind of sauce.