Polenta Taragna alla Valtellinese
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup polenta taragna
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut
1/4 pound Taleggio cheese, sliced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce the heat to moderately low so that the water comes to a simmer.
2. Pour in the polenta taragna by the handful in a thin stream very slowly, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon to prevent lumps. Keep the mixture at a bare simmer and stir frequently. (It is not necessary to stir constantly if the polenta is cooked on low heat.) After all the polenta is added, stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter and cook the polenta, stirring and crushing any lumps that might form against the side of the pan, for 20 to 25 minutes. (As it cooks the polenta will thicken considerably.) The polenta is done when it comes away effortlessly from the side of the pan.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cheese, the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, and pepper. Season to taste. Add remaining cheese and stir quickly, leaving some of the cheese unmelted. Transfer the polenta to a serving platter and serve immediately.
Dean & DeLuca and other specialty food shops carry a product called polenta taragna, which is loosely translated on the package as Indian corn flour with buckwheat flour. Italians have been making polenta out of buckwheat, as well as barley and other grains, for centuries, and this product mixes cornmeal with the buckwheat because many find that the buckwheat alone is too bitter. Polenta taragna is exactly what you need for this classic dish from ffaltellina (a valley in the Alps of Lombardy); it is always prepared with buckwheat, cornmeal, butter, and cheese. The Taleggio gives the dish a wonderful, earthy taste. It's a creamy, but not super-soft bowl of polenta, grainlike in flavor, ideal as a side dish with something saucy-like beef braised in Barolo wine. Serves 6 as a side dish