Every now and then along comes a recipe that you may have glanced at, skimmed through, perhaps even mentally bookmarked, but between one thing and another maybe you’ve never found the time, the inspiration or the energy to actually make it. Maybe you’ve even forgotten about it. And then one day you remember it, you’re in the mood for it or something else spurs you on. You go out and look for the ingredients or realise you have them on hand and before long, you’re in the midst of making it, dirtying hands, bowls and kitchen counter as you go. Then finally there’s that telling moment, that moment of truth, where you bite into that creation that almost never was and you think, where have you been all my life?
Well this, for me, is one of those recipes. It’s from Artusi‘s 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, and is one that easily escapes the eye, firstly because in a book of 790 recipes, there’s a lot of competition. Secondly, Artusi has given it the rather anonymous name of paste di farina gialla II, or yellow flour pastries II. The vague title of the recipe (‘yellow flour’ is rather sweet though), I think, is its downfall as it makes it too easy to skip over without reading the recipe first properly. It also comes after another polenta cookie recipe (you guessed it, paste di farina gialla I) that calls for lard and a touch of aniseed, not everyone’s current favourite cookie ingredients; ingredients that may not encourage you to read the second. And so, this recipe sat there, under my very eyes for about two years.
Then it just so happened that I was searching for polenta recipes, particularly baked goods (more on this soon but it’s also no secret that I have a profound love of polenta cakes). Only Artusi doesn’t call this wonderful ingredient polenta, but rather ‘farina gialla‘ (‘yellow flour’) in the titles or ‘farina di granturco‘ in the list of ingredients, which is tricky if one does not know that he means polenta. In English, the name of this slightly coarse ‘flour’ – or more a ‘meal’, really – made of stone ground (if you get a good one) dried corn, is just as confusing. In Australia, we call it polenta, in the US it’s often also known as cornmeal, it’s just not to be mistaken with corn flour, which is an entirely different product, a powdery, white wheat starch (also called corn starch in many British-influenced countries or maizena in Italian) used in cooking as a thickener.
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