History of Polenta
The polenta is a very ancient dish. The word derives from the Latin “puls”. Known by the Romans as “pultem”, originally the polenta was made with spelt, a kind of hard grain rice. This polenta was very soft and the Romans liked to season it with cheese, milk, meat, and sour sauce. While Romans used spelt as the main ingredient, the Greeks preferred barley, but other cereals such as buckwheat, millet, rye, sorghum or panic were used as well.
Things changed when Columbus came back from the Americas with a plant that native people called Mahiz.
Corn was introduced in Europe around 1525, but the Mayas had been cultivating it in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras for over 3000 years. Between the years 1530 and 1540 corn finally arrived in Venice. Initially it was cultivated only in botanical gardens and by garden enthusiasts, but Veneto was the first Italian region to cultivate it in fields. Records of a polenta made with a “yellow flour” date back to 1550-55. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a period of war and famine, the polenta became the most popular dish among farmers and poor people because it was actually cheaper than bread and “filled the belly”. Because this was a poor dish, lacking in nutrients and vitamins, it is generally thought that it contributed to the spread of pellagra.
But what's the traditional way to make polenta? First of all you need a finely ground cornmeal. You bring a big pot (which according to tradition should be made of copper) of water to a boil, add some salt, and gradually whisk in the the cornmeal. Stir constantly with a wooden stick for at least one hour.
According to its consistency, the polenta is then served with a spoon, cut in slices with a wooden knife or with a cotton thread.