Combo Italiano: Everyday Italian … Without Pasta
If you think this blog post is just going to be a litany of New Jersey-isms, well fuhgeddaboudit.
Still, growing up in Jersey, you can’t help but pick up a few things about Italian food… like the fact that there’s more to the cuisine than pasta. That’s not to say that making fresh pasta isn’t a real art… in fact, I’d like to try it myself. But tonight, I want to devote my attention to pasta’s less popular but equally gifted step-sibling — polenta.
Move Over, Giada
Okay, you got me — I’m not Italian. For all I know, I might constantly break all the cardinal rules of la cucina italiana. But I can tell you one thing with certainty. Tonight, Jon, Jeff, and I whipped up a fantastic everyday Italian meal from start to finish in about an hour — and it was freaking delicious.
The menu consisted of three basic items — meatballs, tomato sauce, and polenta. The meatballs were pretty straightforward, although I added some orange zest to them just for kicks. For the tomato sauce, we turned to Jacques Pepin’s “Complete Techniques” for guidance on peeling and seeding the tomatoes. This was actually the most time-intensive and important step — which is why I made Jon and Jeff do it.
The biggest surprise of the evening was the simplest dish of all — the polenta. I’ve often been awed by the mashed potato consistency of creamy polenta, and the crispiness of grilled polenta cakes (I’m easily impressed…)
Well, it turns out polenta is just corn meal, slowly stirred in boiling water, with salt and butter. Granted, it took a lot of stirring to get it creamy (I pawned the task off on Jeff after about 10 minutes), but the result was a hearty side dish that soaked up the flavors of the tomato sauce beautifully. Let the polenta cool, and you can grill it after it congeals to make a polenta cake. Divine.
So next time you go to open up a box of pasta, a jar of sauce, or a can of SpaghettiOs, I urge you to consider making your own sauce (even if it’s with a can of crushed tomatoes) and experimenting with polenta. It’s the ultimate combo Italiano. Like me (an earnest but clumsy chef), you just might find that creating entire meals from scratch is easier than you’d imagined. Buon apetito!