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HOME COOK : Mush Notes

August 13, 1992|MARION CUNNINGHAM

What's in a name? Well, just about everything, if you consider what has happened to cornmeal mush and then think of polenta. They are basically identical, but just try to tell that to an Italian from Lombardy.

Or an orthodox "foodie," for that matter. I suspect that if you put "cornmeal mush and cheese" on the menu in a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant, it wouldn't sell. Call it polenta, on the other hand, insist that the only way to make it is to stir until eternity, and everybody's eager to eat it. At the risk of being a chauvinist, I am about to offer you two cornmeal mush recipes.

Alberts cornmeal, always available in supermarkets, works just dandy in these recipes. Stone-ground cornmeal has a healthy sound and can be found in specialty stores. And if you want a coarser or more robust meal, try Golden Pheasant brand, which can be found in Italian delicatessens. It is a favorite choice for making polenta.

By the way, just as Easterners and Southerners favor white-skin chicken, they also prefer white cornmeal; we in the West generally like yellow cornmeal and yellow-skin chicken. This is nothing but a regional foible--I think there is no difference in taste or texture.

A tip: When adding cornmeal to boiling water, first dampen it with cold water. This helps prevent lumping.

This is a hearty dish with an appetizing look. It is a layer of cornmeal mush covered with a layer of spinach and topped with a layer of fish fillets, all baked together. You might serve it with a chilled salad of raw onion rings, grapefruit sections and fresh mint leaves with a light olive oil-vinegar dressing.

CORNMEAL MUSH WITH SPINACH AND FISH

3/4 cup cornmeal

3 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar

Salt

1 pound spinach, cooked and chopped

2 pounds fish fillets

Pepper

Place cornmeal in bowl with 1 cup water. Bring remaining 2 cups water to boil in saucepan. Stir in moistened cornmeal. Stir often until mush is thick and smooth, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Spread cornmeal in greased 8-inch square baking dish. Stir vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt into chopped spinach. Spread spinach over cornmeal and place fish in layer on top.

Season fish to taste with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees until center of thickest part of fish is opaque, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

335 calories; 317 mg sodium; 84 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 52 grams protein; 1.43 grams fiber.

This is a simple but delicious and unusual dessert. The mush is sliced and quickly fried in butter, then topped with maple syrup. The sliced fruit and walnut halves are arranged on the plate. Serve it warm.

CORNMEAL MUSH WITH MAPLE SYRUP, FRUIT AND WALNUTS

4 3/4 cups water

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup butter

4 bananas or 3 mangoes, peeled and sliced

1 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 cups walnut halves

Bring 4 cups water to boil in heavy-bottomed 6- or 5-quart pot. Add salt. Stir remaining 3/4 cup water into dry cornmeal until dampened. Add moistened cornmeal to boiling water, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, stirring briskly with whisk. Cook, continuing to stir until mush is smooth and thick, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Line 8x4-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Spoon mush into prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula. Let cool, then refrigerate until needed. When ready to serve, cut loaf into 3/4-inch slices.

Melt butter in large skillet. Add as many cornmeal slices to fit in single layer in skillet. Fry quickly over medium-high heat until golden on both sides. Place mush on individual dessert plates and add sliced bananas on top or around sides. Pour some maple syrup on top. Garnish with some walnut halves. Serve warm. Makes 10 slices, about 5 servings.

Each serving contains about:

737 calories; 789 mg sodium; 50 mg cholesterol; 42 grams fat; 90 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 2.28 grams fiber.

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