I’m lucky enough to be involved with a wonderful Italian cultural institution that over the years, has held monthly programs on subjects such as Renaissance art and architecture, operatic as well as Italian folk music, and literary readings by Italian authors. But by far the most popular event is our annual polenta festa, held last Sunday. That’s the day when the rooms spill over with people from the community who eagerly gather to share their favorite polenta dish at the table, laden with offerings. You never know what you might find – or who might be there – including Nobel laureate John Nash, a regular to the event.
Here are some snapshots of what was offered: Alessandra’s polenta with mushrooms in a brown sauce – and Milena’s polenta with porcini mushrooms in a tomato sauce:
Joe’s polenta with lentils and homemade cotechino:
Eleanor’s polenta with melted cheese and sausage, or in the style of the Trentino region, polenta with sausage, Asiago cheese, grana padano and sage:
Ciao Chow Linda’s taragna polenta with pumpkin bits, topped with caponata, sun-dried tomatoes or parmesan cheese:
There’s usually music too:
And polenta desserts too, like this wonderfully moist and flavorful polenta almond cake that Gilda brought:
Or Carla’s polenta upside-down caramel orange cake:
Also check out my post about an automated polenta maker – click here for Il Paiolo.
Now for a couple of recipes:
Gilda’s almond polenta cake
(from a Martha Stewart recipe)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
1/2 cup finely ground polenta (cornmeal)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T. cornstarch
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
12 T. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature, plus 2 T. melted, for pan
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
3 large eggs
3 T. freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread sliced almonds in a single layer on a small baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl; set aside to cool. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, finely grind whole almonds; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, polenta, flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt; set aside. Pour melted butter into an 8 by 2-inch round cake pan, swirling to coat bottom and brushing up sides of the pan. Sprinkle with sugar and toasted sliced almonds; set aside.
- Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each addition. Beat in orange juice and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, slowly beating just until combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tested inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer baking pan to wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and cool completely.
Carla’s Caramel Orange Polenta Cake
Caramel Orange Layer 350 oven 9” round pan
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into bits
2 navel oranges
1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp orange-flower water (or juice of orange)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 cups ground almonds (sliced toasted in oven first)
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta flour
¼ cup orange marmalade
1 tablespoon water
Prepare Caramel Orange Layer
-Lightly butter 9-inch round cake pan and line bottom and side with parchment.
-Grate zest from oranges and reserve for cake. Cut remaining peel and white pith off oranges and cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices.
-Place sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan regularly (do not use utensils to stir) until sugar has dissolved…watch carefully during process and continue to swirl pan until sugar has turned to liquid amber color.
-Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting to coat evenly…caramel will begin to harden so work fast.
- Remove any seeds from slices of orange and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.
-Beat butter with sugar using electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each one. Mix in zest and orange water.
-Wisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With mixer on low, add almonds, polenta and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.
-Spread batter evenly over oranges. Bake in center of 350 degree oven until wooden pick inserted in middle comes out clean 45-60 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Invert on plate.
-Heat marmalade with water until melted. Can strain but I like pieces of orange. Brush on cake.
-Serve warm or room temperature.