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Polenta Practice

January 27, 1994

Perhaps I can help you on a couple of points regarding your article on cooking polenta ("Polenta: A Stirring Tale," Jan. 13). My family is from Trentino in northern Italy, where I have spent an enjoyable portion of my life. Polenta is our basic food. We eat a great deal of risotto also, some pasta, but from fall through spring, the mainstay is polenta.

We also have a modern house, but in the kitchen is the requisite wooden stove for cooking polenta (it also heats the kitchen nicely on snowy nights). Polenta is always cooked in a deep copper pot, which I also use here, although the stove is gas. Newlyweds are generally given a new trisa , or faggio as it is called in Alba, which is a sturdy stick made out of beechwood with which to stir the polenta. Rarely would anyone use a spoon for the stirring.

Mixing the grain into the boiling water is always a problem, but one which our area does not experience. That is because we mix the grain with a small amount of cold water first so that it is wet before it goes into the pot. The result is that it will not clot into lumps. Try it sometime.

I completely agree that instant polenta does not work. I have tried many of the types now sold in Italy, and they have no flavor or character. Besides, I enjoy setting my guests around a platter of cheese and a bottle of wine in the kitchen while I do the stirring. It is a good place for conversation.

MICHAEL MASE

Signal Hill

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