The dazzling yellow polenta most of us are familiar with is not the grain that previous generations of Northern Italians knew. Modern polenta has been de-germed so it lasts a long time after milling, but the flavor and texture have taken a hit. Since 2000, a small group of farmers, chefs, and millers have been working to bring heirloom polenta back from near-extinction. They’ve revived an old variety called Floriani red flint corn—after drying and milling, it’s essentially whole-grain cornmeal. Red flint polenta is toothsome, full of rich flavor, and has striking looks. It also takes 3 hours to cook, so be patient. The results—whether you add cheese and butter or eat it plain—are worth it.
What to buy: You can buy red flint polenta online from Community Grains, a small milling company in Northern California.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- Difficulty: Easy
- Total: About 3 hrs
- Active: 15 mins
For the polenta:
- 3 quarts cold water, plus more as needed
- Large pinch of kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups red flint polenta
- Extra-virgin olive oil (optional), for garnishing
If using dairy (optional):
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking vigorously to keep lumps from forming. Let the polenta come to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a low, steady simmer. Cook the polenta for 3 hours, whisking frequently and reducing the heat as necessary to keep a gentle simmer. If the polenta becomes too thick, simply add more water and continue cooking.
- The finished polenta should be a thick porridge, like grits, and the grain should be supple. The red bran flakes should be pleasantly toothsome, not stiff or raw. Taste the polenta and add additional salt if necessary. Serve immediately in warmed bowls, or as a side to porchetta or other roasted meats. Top with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil if you’d like.
For an extra-rich alternative:
- Turn off the heat and whisk the mascarpone cheese and butter into the polenta. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Serve as above.