Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crock Pot Polenta--The Impatient Italian's Polenta

The first time I tasted Polenta was at my Italian in-laws table. As a good Southern girl, I had grown up with grits as a staple, so Polenta was love at first bite. That was eight years ago, and ever since then, I had every intention of making Polenta at home. I took mental notes while watching my father-in-law make a batch of polenta. I asked about the cornmeal and the recipe. Yes, lots of notes, but it wasn't until this past Christmas Eve that I finally gave it a try.

Why did I wait so long? I'm impatient. Polenta requires patience to stand at the stove and stir and stir and stir. On Christmas Eve, I cooked Chicken and Wine (another fabulous recipe of my father-in-law) in my Crock Pot and turned my efforts to polenta. Only I didn't allot enough time and halfway through cooking on the stove top, I shoved it into an oven proof container and baked it the rest of the way. Can you say impatient!

So for the impatient Italian, I had to find a way to cook polenta in the Crock Pot. My Crock Pots are my best friends (aside from the living breathing humans who are actually my best friends). So, today with Stephanie O'dea's Chicken Cacciatore cooking in my 6-quart Crock, I was determined to make the perfect side dish to Cacciatore, polenta, in a crock pot. I succeeded!

The Impatient Italian's Polenta
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 4-6 hours
Cooling Time: 1-2 hours


4 Quart Slow Cooker
1 Reynold's Slow Cooker Liner
2 Cups of Cold Water
8 Cups of Boiling Water
3 Cups of Cornmeal
6 Tbs. Butter
4 tsp. Salt
2 4x8 bread loaf pans lined with cling wrap

Yield: 2 loaves

Line a 4-quart slow cooker with the Reynold's Slow Cooker Liner, not because I am endorsing them but because if you don't you will have a giant sticky mess that will take longer to clean than it would have to cook the polenta in the first place.

Pour the cold water in a bowl and add the cornmeal, slowly, stirring as you add each cup. Make sure the water is thoroughly incorporated with the cornmeal. It will make a large sticky ball.

Pour the boiling water in the slow cooker and add butter and salt to the hot water. Once the butter is completely melted, add the sticky cornmeal mixture one giant spoonful at a time, stirring as you add to incorporate the mixture into the hot water. Stir well and put the lid on the slow cooker. The cornmeal will sink to the bottom of the crock. That's okay.

Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. Stir every hour or you'll have some excess water on top of the polenta, and it will be more cooked on the bottom than the top.

Once cooked and while it is still hot, spoon it out of the slow cooker and into the bread pans lined with cling wrap, making sure to press the polenta into the corners. The cling wrap will allow you to dump the polenta out easily. Let it cool in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving.

Your finished product will be a lovely loaf of polenta that took 5 minutes to throw together.

The Verdict

My husband won't touch polenta, no matter how it's made, with a 10-foot poll. I think the Italian gene skips a generation, but my son ate enough for both of them. I thought the polenta tasted just like my father-in-law's. The best part is that the recipe makes way more polenta than my son and I can eat, so I sliced the loaves, wrapped them in cling wrap, and packed them in vacuum packed bags and froze them.

The polenta in the crock, post-cooking. The odd color on top is due to the fact that I did not stir it. I started the crock and walked out the door, returning 6-hours later. The discoloration doesn't hurt anything and if you don't have time to stir every hour. It won't ruin it.

This is what your crock will look like without a liner. I highly recommend them and won't cook anything in my crock's without them. I'm way too impatient to clean stuck on food!

The polenta in the bread pan looks ugly, but the top will be the bottom of the loaf. No one will ever see it. Be sure to press the polenta into the corners of the pan so your loaf is nice and even.
The finished product! Once cool, the loaf will slip out of the lined pan. You can throw the cling wrap away or use it to wrap the loaf.

Yum! All it needs is some juice from Chicken and Wine or Chicken Cacciatore!!

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