Good Polenta is one of those dishes any food-obsessive worth their weight should be slave to: a roiling, boiling, bubbling cauldron of canary yellow goodness that takes at least 30 minutes of your time, to say nothing of the repetitive strain injury constant stirring delivers. If it doesn't hurt, how can it be Good? I will admit that, in my twenties, and egged on by the elitism of the glossy food magazines I devoured at the time, I duly did just that. Then I read Tod Davies' joyful, life-affirming little book Jam Today. It's a book I've often thought about when in this now, as of last month, eight-years-young blog space, yet I've not raved enough about it - correcting that, right now.
Look. Davies got this from no less than the illustrious Paula Wolfert, a woman who'd have you making your own couscous (oy), and if Wolfert thinks a shortcut is worthwhile here, it bloody well is. Let the oven do the work, and make your house smell irresistible at the same time. It's polenta, but easier. Genius! So simple it's hardly a recipe:
Take 1 cup of polenta and mix it, in a baking dish, with 5 cups of water/stock. Add some salt. Add a slice of butter/a generous spoonful of olive oil. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake, at 180 C (375 F), for 1 hour. Foil lid off, check if the texture's what you want, adding more liquid if you want a looser mix, lid back and bake for a further 10 minutes if that's the case. Otherwise, you are good to go at the 1 hour mark.
It's what you do next that makes it Tod Davies' own brand of genius and, most pleasingly, makes it a stunning vehicle for leftovers. While hot from the oven, and working quickly (but calmly) to avoid it setting, scrape about half of the polenta onto a plate. Add whatever you like* to the polenta in the baking dish, then scrape the plated polenta back on top, dribble over some oil or melted butter and bake for a further 20 mins or so.
*literally, whatever you like. Keep it vaguely in the region of origin is my thinking, so nothing too geographically weird, if you get my drift. I recently made it with a combo of garlicky braised turnips and their luscious greens, along with some leftover tomato-y chickpea-y thingo, and goat cheese. Yet another blank canvas idea - the only kind of recipe one really needs these days.