While The Feast of The Seven Fishes is celebrated among many Italians on Christmas Eve, my family prepares a large pot of creamy, golden polenta that we place slices of Fontina cheese on top and then pour on a hot Italian stew. The hot polenta and stew melts the cheese so that the polenta becomes this cheesy, creamy dream under the stew.
We reserve Christmas Eve for this dish because my family in Montecreto, Italy had never heard of the Feast of Seven Fishes and because they lived in the mountains, they were nowhere near the sea to even purchase the fish. The roads in the mountains at the time were also only traveled by foot, so the distance and the difficulty added additional reasons for not obtaining fish to eat for Christmas or any time for that matter.
Polenta, now being so trendy in the food world, was literally one of the foods of the poor. It was not luxury food at all, it was a humble necessity! And a delicious necessity at that.
The wonderful thing about serving polenta on Christmas Eve is that if you make a large pot-full, as we do, then you have extra polenta to FRY the next day for Christmas morning. This is truly my absolute favorite way to eat polenta . . . fried and crispy, and yes, with a slice of cheese melted on top!
To make polenta is quite easy; it just takes time. Here is the very simple recipe that my family uses and that I am sure is followed by many other people as well:
6 cups water
2 cups ground polenta or yellow cornmeal
2 tsp. salt
Bring water to a boil with salt in a 4-quart heavy pot.
Slowly add polenta, whisking while pouring.
Cook over medium heat while whisking for 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to low.
Cover and simmer polenta, stir for 1 minute after every 10 minutes of cooking.
Cook for a total of 45 minutes or until there is no ‘gritty’ texture, when it is ‘creamy soft, very thick, and fairly firm, not runny.
Remove from heat and serve hot.
Place slices of Fontina on top to melt all over the hot polenta.
For polenta to be fried:
Place clear wrap in a bread baking pan.
Pour in the polenta.
Cover it with the wrap.
Place in the refrigerate to get nice and firm.
When the polenta is chilled and firm, remove it from the baking pan and clear wrap.
Slice it and place in a large frying pan sprayed with oil on medium heat.
Fry each side until nicely browned.
Pass slices of cheese around to melt on top of the hot, fried polenta.