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X Italian Rice and Polenta Dishes
Polenta with Tomatoes
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Every day
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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For Polenta

1 cup yellow cornmeal (fine)
1 cup yellow cornmeal (coarse)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water (or more)

For Tomato Sauce

3 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes (about 10 large tomatoes)
1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 dried sweet peppers
1 teaspoon hot chillies (optional)
1/2 pound fresh Italian sausage (optional)
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon dry basil (optional)
1 teaspoon dry oregano (optional)
1 teaspoon hot red chillies (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

For garnish:

2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)


To Make Polenta

Boil the water in a large pan. Add salt.

In a separate bowl mix the coarse cornmeal with the fine cornmeal.

Add the mixed cornmeal to the boiled salted water. Turn down the heat and stir with a wooden spoon (Take the pan off the heat and use a hand-held electric mixer if the polenta gets too lumpy).

Keep stirring for half an hour or so (add more warm water if the bottom starts to burn).

To Make Tomato Sauce

Peel and chop the garlic.

Peel and chop onion.

Skin and remove seeds from tomatoes.Dice the tomatoes (The pieces should be as small as possible).

Heat up the olive oil in a cooking pan.

Saute the onion and garlic.

Crush or chop the dried sweet red peppers and add to the onion and garlic mixture.

Add hot chillies (optional).

If using fresh sausage, remove the meat from its casing and saute it for about 5 minutes in the onion and garlic mixture.

Add the tomatoes. Mix in tomato paste (if using).

Add salt, pepper, sugar (if using), fresh basil and bay leaf. Add dried oregano and basil (if using).

Over medium heat, cook the tomato sauce for about 20 minutes.

Remove bay leaf and basil.

To Serve Polenta

Place polenta in individual bowls. Top with tomato sauce.

Garnish with finely chopped fresh basil OR fresh parsley (optional).

Serve warm.


Prior to World War II polenta was viewed as the food of the poorest of the poor, and as such it had the least amount of culinary appeal. Most people cooked it because there was little else to cook, and so they made do. Few individuals admitted to liking polenta. Generally speaking, foods that used corn as their base were not well-liked. Even though this was the case, the majority of subsistence farmers did grow corn on their farms (as well as wheat, of course). Possibly, farmers grew corn because they were afraid they might need a back-up, in case their wheat didn't do well etc.... In any case, most poorer households in Southern Italy ate polenta a few times a week. Often, the topping varied. Most people preferred to eat polenta with a red sauce (a tomato-based one). However, fresh tomatoes were not always available, so in the winter and early spring, polenta was served with a "white" sauce -- olive oil and garlic. Few (if any) liked this combination, but they ate it 'cause they had no choice. Nowadays, Italian cooks are rediscovering polenta and quite a few claim to like it. Why I can't say, but so it is. Photo: Mary Melfi.

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