You might think I’m playing an April Fool’s joke on you when I tell you I spent three hours cooking polenta on the stovetop.
But I kid you not.
That was part of the careful cooking instructions I was given when Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland gave me a sample bag of Floriani Red Flint Corn Polenta to try at home. The medium-course grind polenta is made from heritage red field corn that was originally developed in Northern Italy. It is whole-grain milled, meaning that the entire grain — including all the germ, bran and endosperm — is milled without separating any of those components out.
Because of that and because it’s a harder corn, it takes three hours to cook.
I was ready to start lifting more weights at the gym for this polenta workout that awaited me. My husband half-jested that he was going to hire a legal day-laborer to help me.
Fortunately, Oliveto Owner Bob Klein reassured me that this polenta did not take continuous stirring at the stove for all three hours. He said an occasional go-round with a wooden spoon would be just fine.
Oliveto has long championed local, artisanal products. That interest led the restaurant to start trying to source locally milled flours and other grains for its housemade pastas. The result was the creation of Community Grains, begun by Oliveto and Certified Foods of Woodland, Calif., which has started working with farms to grow heritage Italian and rare California wheat varieties.
The Floriani Red Flint Corn Polenta is now available for purchase at Oliveto for $24 for a three-pound bag.
The first thing you notice when you open the bag is that this polenta is not uniformly bright golden yellow like others. Instead, it’s got flecks of yellow, but also red, white, sand and deep brown.
When cooking, use a ratio of about 1 cup of the polenta to 4 cups of water or stock. And be sure to use a heavy-duty, well-insulated pot so that the polenta doesn’t burn on the bottom.
Just a minute after pouring the polenta into the pot of simmering liquid, the mixture will thicken up fast. Keep it on a gentle simmer, giving it a stir every 20 minutes or so. If it starts to thicken up too much to your liking, just stir in a little more liquid.
As the hours tick by, the polenta will get more and more creamy in consistency.
Just before serving, stir in a little butter and grated cheese, if you like.
The polenta will be quite thick, almost porridge-like. But take a taste and you’ll find it surprisingly light and rather fluffy, as opposed to dense and heavy. The flavor is wonderfully nutty and hearty.
I served it as a bed for beef stew. But I can imagine it also being fabulous for breakfast with maple syrup or brown sugar.
I’ll just have to set my alarm clock super early, though, to have any chance of making it before lunch hits.