Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. The first picture is my recipe for polenta uncia, and the second picture is my favorite polenta uncia in the entire world.
Here in the Northern part of Italy, at the foot of the alps, they eat a kind of polenta called “polenta taragna”. It is a mix of corn and buckwheat flour, and the word “taragna” is actually dialect for the long handled paddle spoon that was used to stir the mixture many years ago. Traditionally, it’s cooked in a copper pot over a wood fire, and the constant stirring is to make sure that it did not burn.
Today the stirring is mechanized and very few places still cook it outside over a wood fire. This farm and restaurant in the mountains shows how it’s done!
“Polenta Uncia” is polenta taragna layered with mild, buttery, local cheese. My version for Americans uses two cheeses that can oftentimes be found in the states. Fontina and American Grana. If you can’t find American Grana, go with a parmesan. When I first attempted to copy my favorite polenta uncia at home , I was inundated with several different opinions of exactly which cheeses were needed to make a correct uncia. Italians have a lot of opinions as to exactly how things should or should not be done in the kitchen. However, after tasting several different versions, I stuck to my own opinion on who’s was the best. And that would be at a place in the mountains called La Bolla. Here is a view from their patio.
I realized I could talk about polenta for many pages, but I’ll end here. It is one of those things that I cook over and over, not quite getting it right, sometimes close enough. Always it tastes good, but it’s one of those recipes that is a quest. It can only get better as time goes on, and with more and more practice.
4 T pasture or alpine butter divided
4 cloves garlic
2 C polenta (course ground corn meal, I use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 T buckwheat flour (I cannot find course ground in the US)
6 C water
1 t salt
thin sliced fontina cheese – as much as you want, I recommend lots
grated American Grana or Grana Padana – I recommend lots
fresh sage leaves
3 qt saute pan
glass baking dish
4 small cast iron skillets
Melt 2 T butter with the garlic cloves in a saute pan for about a minute. Add water and bring to a boil. Add salt and regain boil. Take out garlic cloves and save for later. Slowly pour in the polenta mixture, whisking constantly and set timer for 20 minutes. Cook for a few minutes, still whisking, and then lower heat to a simmer. Once the heat is down you only have to whisk occasionally.
At the 20 minute mark, reset the timer for 10 minutes and start watching the polenta and stirring more often. You are looking for it to get as thick as possible.
I think polenta uncia is best made with polenta made the day before, but if you want to eat it the same day, give it some time to cool down and firm up. This recipe makes it quite soft. I put it in a glass baking dish.
Preheat oven to 425
Divide the polenta into 4 portions and scoop 1/2 the mixture into the bottom of each skillet. Layer the fontina slices on top. Follow with scoops of the remaining polenta, some more slices of fontina, and then cover completely with the grated grana. Put pans on top rack for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. This really depends on your oven. In the meantime, slice up the garlic cloves, and melt the remaining butter with the sage and garlic.
Bring out the polenta when the top is completely melted. Turn broiler on to high. Pour the butter, garlic, sage mixture over the top of each, and return to oven for 3-5 minutes. The top should be crispy and the entire pan should sizzle and pop!
Enjoy! This is one of my favorite dishes, and most people eat it as the entire meal. I was told that you must eat it with a glass of wine, or in the case of children, sparkling water, to help with the digestion of the fat. Red wine is best.