Maybe it is just me, but I didn’t quite realize that the only real difference between Italian version of Polenta and Southern versions of Grits is the type of ground corn meal. Polenta is a dish that has been around since the Roman times and usually considered something eaten by peasants, due to the low cost of ground corn. On the other hand, grits are typically white corn meal and dates back to Native Americans and a dish that you’ll find all over the Southern United States.
While the Italian version and Southern version both derive from corn, some of the major differences are that ‘grits’ are usually a coarser ground than polenta, and traditionally aren’t served in cake-like forms the way Italian polenta is served. Italian yellow corn Polenta can take hours to prepare and once cooled, can be sliced and fried or grilled and topped with any number of things.
The reason for this brief history lesson stems from my own ignorance. I didn’t quite realize that they were almost the same thing, just one was yellow corn meal and the other a stone ground coarser white corn meal. I personally love both and find myself using grits as a breakfast food and polenta as a dinner side dish or starch.
Last night, I decided to cook up some polenta, though not my typical Trader Joe’s Polenta…
Instead, I used a bag of yellow corn meal and took a recipe from Alton Brown to cook up a nice side dish to some veal sausage and green beans. This preparation can definitely be altered easily, but it delicious the way it is.
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, 1/4 inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
24 ounces/3 cups water
8 ounces/1 cup chicken stock
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sharp cheddar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large, oven-safe saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.
Turn the heat up to high, add the water and chicken stock, bring to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the cheddar cheese.
I served the polenta from here, but Alton gives these directions afterward:
Serve as is, or pour the polenta into 9 by 13-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rounds, or triangles. Brush each side with olive oil and saute in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.