Polenta with Carbonada - A Specialty from Italy's Aosta Valley
Polenta is practically part of the DNA of northern Italians - this traditional dish has been served on tables across the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino, Veneto, etc. Nowadays it is popular all across Italy and beyond.
The typical polenta or the "yellow" polenta as we know it today is made from corn and became widespread in Italy only after the discovery of America when corn was imported to Europe. Before that, polenta was prepared with other grains such as barley, spelt, rye and millet. With the introduction of corn and its spread throughout Italy, especially in the Po Valley, corn polenta soon became the staple food of the Italian people and a veritable “polenta civilisation” came into being.
But: not all polenta is the same
When we refer to polenta in Piedmont, we immediately think of the classic corn polenta. But in reality, there are many different types that are prepared with different types of flour.
For example, there is the polenta Taragna, which is typical of Valtellina and other areas of Lombardy. It is made with a mixture of corn and buckwheat flour, which gives the polenta a darker colour. In Friuli and in the Venetian hinterland, on the other hand, white polenta is widespread. It is made from Biancoperla corn, which is characterised by its pearly white kernels. White polenta is often served as an accompaniment with fish. In the Apennine region and Emilia Romagna, there is sweet polenta made from chestnut flour. Tthere are many other types of polenta too. And not just in Italy - from Africa to Latin America, polenta is enjoyed all over the world in a variety of ways.
A versatile food
One of the reasons for the popularity of polenta is its versatility in addition to its availability and low price. In the past, polenta was used almost as a substitute for bread and was eaten daily in many northern regions.
Polenta can be served as an appetiser, main course or side dish. It can be baked in the oven and made into casseroles or even sauteed. Some prefer plain polenta, others season it with cheese or serve it with meat, mushrooms or vegetables.
Polenta with Carbonada alla Valdostana
Here we present a classic dish from the Aosta Valley. In this region polenta is served either plain or "concia" - with plenty of butter and cheese such as the famous Fontina cheese. Those who prefer a lighter version should opt for plain polenta. If you like it rich and tasty, stir diced Fontina cheese into cooked polenta at the end of the cooking time while it's still hot. If you can't find Fontina, use another flavourful melting cheese of your choice.
This classic dish from the Aosta Valley consists of polenta served with sausage or with carbonada, a slow-cooked beef stew of Belgian origin. This is the perfect dish for the cold days of autumn and winter and not only in the mountains.
Traditionally, polenta used to be cooked in a copper pot over an open fire or fireplace while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. This procedure is not common nowadays however and it is usually prepared in a regular pot on the stove. It is very important to keep stirring to prevent the polenta from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
For a meal for 4 people you will need:
- 350 grams cornmeal
- 2 litres salted water
bring the water to a boil in a pot. Slowly add the cornmeal. Keep stirring to avoid clumping.
The polenta should then be cooked at a low temperature under constant stirring - so roll up your sleeves and get ready for a workout! Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it is also tiring and time-consuming. Pre-cooked polenta is available these days and you can use that too. But we think it is certainly worth the time and effort to make polenta from scratch to enjoy the full flavour.
To make polenta "concia", dice the cheese of your choice. At the end of cooking time, add it to the polenta along with a generous amount of butter.
To prepare a delicious carbonada, all you need is time and good ingredients. Choose a strong red wine for the marinade. As for the meat, choose any cut of veal as long as it is not too fatty.
Ingredients for 4 persons:
- 800 grams veal
- 60 grams butter
- 1 litre red wine
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 onion
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 - 3 cloves
- 2 - 3 bay leaves
- a little flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare the marinade with the wine, chopped vegetables and spices. Add the meat cut into 3 - 4 cm cubes and mix in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 8 - 10 hours.
- When the marinating time is up, drain the meat and reserve the marinade liquid. Dry the meat pieces with paper towels, dredge in flour and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil and sear the meat pieces over high heat.
- Deglaze with the marinade liquid (without vegetables and spices) and cook for about 1 hour over medium heat.
- Now add the vegetables and spices from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for a further 2 hours until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.
- Serve hot with polenta.
This article has been submitted by Paola, a member of Team Italia at Piccantino. Grazie mille, Paola!