Monday, 2 May 2016

Pasticcio di Polenta, Northern Italian comfort food

This weekend I went to Florence, they don't have much polenta there. Such is the regional nature of Italian cuisine that they don't have the same things on the menu in Florentine restaurants as they would say in Veneto. No risottos or Baccala , but lots of bean soups and Florentine steaks.
Nowadays polenta is often used as an accompaniment to meat or fish stews but once it was all there was for many people to eat, it saved a lot of Northern Italians from starvation. It is made from maize flour brought over from America. Many people only ate polenta, at every meal, every day. Sometimes to give it a bit of flavour they would rub it with a herring or an anchovy, but sparingly and then wrap the fish up to use another time. It was very common to get a disease from eating only polenta but that was still preferable to the alternative.
Whenever I make something I think of its sobering history, and the people that owed there lives to this everyday dish.
In this recipe I use polenta the same way that you would lasagne, to make a pasticcio.

Pasticcio di Polenta

4 carrots, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 tins of tomatoes
1 glass of red or white wine,
250ml vegetable stock
300g good quality minced beef
basil, salt and pepper
grated parmesan cheese
150ml cream
400g polenta, thinly sliced.

Gently cook the chopped onion and grated carrot in a small amount of olive oil until soft.
Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer gently.
In a non stick pan gently cook the minced beef to get rid of excess fat, then drain and add to the carrot, onion and tomato mixture.
Add the wine and let it evaporate.
Mix well and add the basil and season to taste.
Pour in the stock and cook gently for about an hour.

Line an oven proof dish with the slices of polenta, then cover with the meat sauce, add another layer of polenta and another of meat sauce.
Cover with the cream and sprinkle over the grated cheese.

Bake in the oven at 180 for about half an hour until golden on top and heated through.

Serve with a green salad.

Buon appetito

Everything ready

Two pans simmering gently

All together now

Get ready to assemble the dish

Ready for the oven

Smells delicious!!

Goes well with a glass of wine

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