Polenta



Polenta – the forgotten queen of stews, livers and milk

And now, it is easy to go to the supermarket, buy polenta and in two minutes have the dish cooked and done. It can be served with stew, with lamb’s liver or džigerica umido (a traditional meal prepared with liver) or with chicken stew or tomato sauce, with arambašići (saurkraut leaves wrapped around minced meat), as well as with milk, yogurt, sour milk…
The far more complicated, although far tastier version (and a bit healthier!) is polenta prepared in the old way, it could also be said, in the forgotten way!
First of all, the two minute instant polenta from the grocery shop is out of the question! The coarse grain corn should be bought at the mill or in the market or at the farmer’s house. If you can find someone who still deals with this kind of production.
When I was young, every kitchen, besides other utensils had a sieve necessary for the preparation of polenta. I still have one, although I do not use it: with polenta I cook all the larger parts which would otherwise remain in the sieve. In this way I make a healthy dish even healthier.
Let's continue!
To cook polenta in the old way, you should have a large, deep pot and the utensil known as the mišaja. It is a kind of mini baseball bat: a piece of rounded wood that is around seventy centimetres long. Its width should equal the width of a thumb and forefinger put together! An even larger ladle can be used, as the mišaja is no longer produced. You can sometimes find it at fairs in the hinterland.
When the (salted!) water in the pot boils, it should be taken off the flame until it calms down. Then the planned quantity of polenta is poured into the hot water – the best way is to use a newspaper or paper bag. A large ball forms in the middle of the pot, a lump surrounded from the exterior by the hot water. In order to cook it properly, a hole should be made down to the bottom of the pot slowly using the mišaja. Lower the flame and let it boil slowly – pouring the lump from the hole in the middle. If you use a kilogram of polenta, that should be done in an hour!
Then take it from the flame and carefully pour away the excess liquid full of grain particles. However, the lump will remain compact (and if it accidentally breaks into two parts – is not really a big problem!).  On the bottom of the pot leave enough liquid so as to be able to add it slowly using mišaja to the main lump. Careful! When you break the polenta lump, you will notice that it has remained dry in the middle! However, the polenta is cooked anyway due to the boiling temperature in which it has been held for an hour!
Whilst slowly adding the liquid from the bottom of the pot or from another pot where the liquid was poured off, you should mix energetically until it becomes solid and until balls can be formed. A polenta ball is a fist-sized rounded piece of polenta. Naturally, it can also be cut with a knife.
Cooking polenta in the old-fashioned way actually has its own special “choreography”: you should sit on a chair, put the pot between your legs and hold it firmly whilst mixing with the mišaja, using both hands, in order to reach the right consistency.
If this feels like a sort of cooking reversion by the fire-place whilst sitting on a tripod stool mixing polenta - you’re on the right track. But this is how it goes – we all originate from old fire-places which have disappeared from our lives although the polenta has remained in the memories of old cooks and maids! Together with its “choreography”.
One of them, my aunt Mirjana, revealed another, almost completely forgotten, detail to me! It is the special dish created when cooking polenta. It is called “kaša” (pulp) and is made of “liquid” full of the grains that remained from cooking the polenta:
-the pulp is poured onto the plate, a drop of vinegar and olive oil is added as well as a touch of pepper and it is eaten with a spoon - like a soup!
In conclusion – in which restaurant can polenta prepared in this way be found?
Nowhere. And it could be prepared in places where authentic traditional dishes are cooked as well as in the rural households of the suburbs. It is available at the market every day, once the summer has passed! This polenta can be kept for a couple of days too.
...Finally here is another not so “healthy” recipe made with polenta: on the hot grease in the pan squeeze the pork rinds and cover them with pieces of polenta until they brown… It is not healthy but it only lasts a short time - while there are pork rinds in those days around the New Year...