Polenta is one of my favorite foods ever. There are regions in northern Italy where it is revered like a deity – and it is correct to do so. I remember my grandma telling me that when she was a child and they were very poor, they used to eat polenta every day and hand in the kitchen a small salami to infuse the polenta with its smell – they could eat the salami only on a Sunday.
*Polenta is mostly a cold days meal, so it is at its popularity peak in the winter, but we usually eat it from September to April quite happy and some of us sometimes decide that it’s August and who cares, let’s have polenta. It’s just like risotto – I had risotto at my wedding in August and nobody thought it was weird. And polenta has the superpower of being amazing when cooled, cubed and lightly grilled, so for me it’s a all year round recipe.*
Polenta is a big part if Italian culinary culture and even though I am not cooking the traditional Polenta e bruscitt (a meat sauce) or with luganega (a sausage – but if you want that kind of experience and to keep it vegan, Linda McCartney’s sausages are pretty amazing).
Over the years I have improved my polenta making skills. I have to say that there is still a general sense of anxiety spreading in my house whenever I announce I am making polenta, because my husband wants to help but once the polenta burnt him pretty badly, so it’s a mixed bag of emotions. Well, for him. I just love polenta ❤
So I am sharing with you step by step how I do it, and how I usually make the vegan ragu to go with it. I tend to make 4 main types of vegan ragu: 1) aubergine, 2) mushrooms, 3) pure vegan mince, 4) seitan ragu. Today I chose to show you how I make my aubergine ragu because I had these amazing aubergines sitting in the fridge and waiting to be cooked and devoured 🙂
While writing the recipe I will highlight the key points with the crucial things to do and not to do to have a perfect polenta. Call me annoying but these things will make the difference, I promise. At the end of the post you will find some additional tips, but I”ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about polenta ❤
I hope you enjoyed the video and my story about polenta and feel free to ask me anything about it, including tips on the other types of sauces to go with it.
The full recipe is on the blog, with all the tips and tricks only a very polenta-obsessed person can reveal ❤
Ingredients and procedure:
*For the vegan ragu:
1 small onion
2 aubergines (medium-large)
1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp tomato puree
200ml vegetable broth + ~100ml hot water (or as much as needed)
1 cup (UK) chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp rosemary
1 tbsp fennel seeds
25g soy mince
First of all: this sauce will be saucy but NOT RUNNY. Polenta works best with dense sauces.
Pour a small amount of olive oil in a large pan and add the onion, quartered, and cook until blonde. Then add the carrots, finely chopped, and cook for some more minutes. Finally, add the aubergine, cut in 1cm cubes and add the smoked paprika and the tomato puree. Mix well so that all the veggies are coated and salt to taste.
Prepare your spice mix: in a cheese cloth put your spices and secure with a kitchen string. I used rosemary, cloves and fennel because they go well with the paprika and I feel that they push the veggies flavour to the next level, but you can play with herbs and spices. Add the herbs and spices bag in and add the vegetable broth, cover and let cook for 10 minutes.
Once the broth is 2/3 absorbed, add the chopped tomatoes and cook. I usually put the amount of chopped tomatoes I want to use in a glass or cup and then after pouring that I add some hot water, which I will add during the final part of the cooking of the veggies, to keep it moist.
Cover again and let cook for 15 minutes. You want the aubergine to be tender but not mushy.
In a small saucepan heat a small amount of olive oil and cook the soy mince to toast it, once toasted, add to the sauce and finish cooling all together for 5 more minutes. Let rest until ready to add to the polenta.
*For the polenta (this is a small dose for 2, as I usually like to have a tiny bit of polenta and a lot of sauce):
130g polenta flour – for me, the coarser, the better. The stone ground one is AMAZING
Okay this is the MOST IMPORTANT part. Polenta is simple in ingredients, but you really want it to be perfect. It’s like when you eat pasta with a great sauce – the sauce is great but if the pasta is overcooked (nightmare material, I know) everything is ruined.
*the water amount has to be 4x the polenta flour – so 1kg polenta needs 4L, for instance. The coarser the polenta, the more water it will need. My recommendation is to keep some hot water nearby ad add small amounts of it if needed. If you are using very fine polenta, use a bit less water (~100g less, and keep some on the side)
Boil the water and salt it: ** do not oversalt it, do not put as much salt as you would do for pasta, because ALL THE WATER YOU POUR WILL BE ABSORBED BY THE POLENTA FLOUR AND YOU WILL EAT IT, so go easy on the salt.
When the water is LIGHTLY boiling, pour the polenta in. Pour it as if it was rain: I show this in the video but this is so important, do not pour it all at once.
*Keep stirring. Polenta making can be thought of as the extreme sport of cooking. You have to keep stirring, keep that pot stable and sometimes you will want to switch hands and rest. Never leave the polenta unsupervised for more than 30 seconds otherwise she will rebel, believe me. I tried in the past to multitask while making polenta and I can to a certain extent: eg If I am making the sauce at the same time it’s okay. If you hear it whistling, she is calling you: run!
Q: I made too much polenta, what can I do now?
R: there is no such thing as “too much polenta”!
- Pour the leftover polenta in a baking dish and let set. Cut in cubes or wedges and grill and eat with whatever you like! Heating up polenta to re-eat as it was supposed to be in the first place doesn’t work well, at all. But the griffin technique is perfection.
- Make polenta chips! I usually make mine with the air fryer after coating the polenta cubes (as in 1 above) with some more polenta flour. This is pure perfection.