I had a really weird interview a few weeks ago. I mean, the interview itself was pretty standard- I won’t go into details or anything, because I’d just bore you to tears- but leaving the interview something weird happened.
I was offered two packages of polenta.
You guys, I really freaking love polenta. I tried to contain my enthusiasm. I wish I could’ve taken more than just the two packages. And in case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t any kind of bribe or anything like that- these was being marked out because of the expiration dates. They weren’t bad yet but they couldn’t be sold.
So that day I brought home a package of polenta with quinoa and a package of polenta with basil and garlic.
My maternal grandfather, the grandparent who I saw the most growing up, was Croatian. He also thought that there was some Italian in our family as well, but we don’t know for sure. One day I’d like to do a bit more research about our family, see who all we’re related to. Well, I’d like someone to do the research, anyway, and then tell me everything. I’m no detective, I just like to eat.
My grandfather grew up eating polenta- it was a staple pantry item for the family. For those of you who don’t know, polenta is basically grits- corn meal. And cooked properly, it is so damn good.
(I look nothing like him.) (Also not much has changed appearance-wise for me, in my opinion. I still intend to wear the most glittery paper crown for my birthday this year.) (Also I’m still obsessed with daisies.)
So when I brought home the polenta I got super super excited because though my grandfather rarely made polenta when I was growing up, I still associate it with him and that part of our family. Also I was super excited because it’s delicious especially when it’s fried and then in sauce, which is what I did the first time I made it.
That pre-packaged polenta you find in the store is already precooked, so all you have to do is heat it. (Unless the directions say otherwise.) So I hacked the quinoa polenta into bits and then fried it up and heated some tomato sauce with bacon from a jar that tasted so good but also like corn syrup ketchup with herbs. I love the convenience of jarred sauces but I’ve been making the tomato bacon pasta for so long I’ve spoiled myself on what fresh sauce tastes like.
But I wasn’t making pasta. I was making POLENTA.
Unfortunately I was so damn hungry and excited that I didn’t photograph anything- sorry y’all. Just stare at 7 year old me above and dream of polenta. I like polenta fried because you can get it crispy if it’s cooked just right, although I feel like this is more easily accomplished with freshly made polenta instead of precooked polenta from a plastic tube. And after you fry it you can just throw it in the oven to keep it warm while you fry the other slices.
I wish I could’ve served this with goat cheese on top. It would’ve been good. Oh, and this was served to roomies like a boss. It was okay. I would’ve fried it differently again. Grandpa would’ve appreciated the effort, I think. Maybe.
So I still had that other package of polenta, the basil garlic flavored one, and I contemplated frying it up again, but honestly I just wasn’t in the mood. I’ve just been settling into my apartment and into work and I’ve already had to miss out on some swell shindigs with friends because I’m just so tired and overwhelmed from the transition out here that I basically said SCREW IT and threw it in a microwavable container with some milk and sour cream.
Because polenta can be microwaved.
And because my grandpa made polenta with sour cream, to thicken it up, and add a source of fat.
According to my momma, Grandpa made his polenta with sour cream and bacon which sounded absolutely divine to me. I’m sure this meal for Grandpa was a way of making a hot meal stretch to provide nutrition for a large family during the Depression, and so maybe he wouldn’t have been too wild about it. Who knows. Anyway, I half contemplated throwing bacon into the polenta for a hot minute, and once again my apathetic, overwhelmed, Tina Belcher self groaned and just hit some buttons on the microwave until it started to heat the polenta.
(Also I’m currently obsessed with Bob’s Burgers and just want to watch all of the episodes with my Annie Noelle, who is too far away and should be here next to me eating Indian take out and talking about boys and indie music. Hence the Tina Belcher nod.)
I also had gone a bit crazy a few days prior to making this particular batch of polenta, at a farmer’s market that happens to be inside my work building. I bought challah. I bought super amazing organic strawberries. I bought the most delicious buttery dates I’ve ever had in my life. And I bought cheese because of course I bought cheese. I have a hard aged goat’s cheese downstairs in my kitchen right now that tastes like a parmesan mixed EVER so slightly with some kind of blue cheese, so it tastes amazing but the smell of it makes me gag because blue cheese is the only thing I can’t stand. And then I also bought the most incredibly fresh cheese curds that were garlic infused and oh mannnnnn when I first bought them I was eating them like they were popcorn.
The point is, my polenta was heating and mixing slowly in the microwave, and I tasted it, and though it claimed to have basil and garlic flavoring it obviously didn’t come through well for me, so I decided OH WHAT THE HELL and threw in the cheese curds and kept heating the polenta so it’d get to be the right consistency.
This may have been the best culinary decision of my life.
Oh man. I was so smart to do this. The cheese was so fresh and garlicky it added enough of a kick to provide flavor- and texture too! I knew the cheese would melt well because the sales girl recommended I try melting the cheese on fries, kind of like a poutine. I may try that again sometime, but honestly I’m planning on just stocking up on polenta and making this over and over again.
I also threw in a pinch of cayenne for a kick (because naturally I’ve been fighting back a cold my whole life) and some salt and then grated some of that aged goat cheese on top to just give it a little bit of tanginess and oh man oh man oh man I’m getting so distracted writing about this right now because my tummy is growling I want my polenta.
Anyway, just to wrap things up for this version of polenta- I blended the prepackaged polenta with some milk, because you need to add some kind of liquid to stir in to get the polenta to the right consistency, and then I also added sour cream to add flavor and thickness for an even smoother consistency. Adding the cheese curds not only added flavor and some sweet cheese melty-ness, but it added some essential protein, which is good because polenta is literally just corn meal. That’s it. That’s why it’s super easy to cook- you can pretty much make any kind of dish with it.
I managed to be really good and not eat the whole dish in one sitting. The whole time I thought of my grandpa and what he’d say. I think he’d like my ridiculously garlicky polenta.
I never felt incredibly close to my grandpa growing up- I’d always been tight with my Grammy, his wife and my maternal grandmother, who passed when I was just two years old. We never really connected on things just because we had such different personalities. At that point Grandpa really had a hard time eating solid foods so he was eating a lot of soup. Actually, all I remember him eating was soup. And cherry Jell-o with whipped cream at The Purple Steer in Whiting. I was still obsessed with grilled cheese sandwiches and cucumber slices.
But what little I know of Grandpa and our family and our heritage, I know he’d be tickled to see me being so damn nifty and thrifty with my food. After all, it runs in the family.
Volim te, Djede. Nadam se da ste ponosni.
Only good things and great adventures.
P.S. Apologies for not having a more coherent piece about my family and polenta, I really have been distracted by how delicious the polenta sounds and am about to go destroy something with my mouth and stomach downstairs in the kitchen now.
P.P.S. BAY AREA GET READY IMMA MAKE SO MUCH TOMATO BACON PASTA THIS WEEK YOU’RE GONNA BLEED EVOO AND CAYENNE AND GARLIC FOR DAYS.