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comfort food: farinata, a polenta delight

WE CALL IT MUSH, my friend Marco and I do, but not in any disparaging way. When the night’s headed into the 20s and you’ve been out in the 40s raking all day (or it’s closer to zero and you’ve been shoveling snow), what you want is just that: stick-to-your-ribs warmth; comfort served in a big bowl, using a big spoon. More molten than soupy, farinata is pure peasant food–nothing more than cornmeal, water, and some kale or cabbage, brought to life with garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

farinata

USE KALE, cabbage or another green if you prefer, to make this Italian-style porridge that’s quick, filling and perfect for those of us who consider such things as soupy polenta to be comfort food—and also love garlic. (Count me in on both scores.) This recipe was inspired by something a friend scribbled down from the old public-television show “Cucina Amore.”

Other references call this farinata–the word just translates as porridge or gruel–Farinata di Cavolo Nero (or Farinata with Tuscan Kale). To confuse things, lately the term farinata is often used to refer to a thin, unleavened savory pancake of chickpea flour (also called a socca)…but here we’re in the cornmeal gruel business.

ingredients:

  • ½ lb. kale or cabbage or mix
  • 6 cups water or vegetable broth (if the broth is salted, or you like a lot of Parmesan, adjust salt below)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾ cup polenta (cornmeal); organic recommended to insure it’s GMO-free
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cloves minced or grated garlic, or to taste
  • ¼ to ½ cup olive oil (with extra for garnish)

steps:

Wash and chop the greens; I use a coarse chiffonade cut (above photo), removing the toughest stem bits first.

Meantime, bring salted water (see above note) or stock to a rolling boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer the greens until barely tender, just a few minutes, in the water or stock.

Gradually whisk in the cornmeal.

Cook on simmer until creamy, about 10 minutes.

Fold in the garlic, cheese and the oil; remove from heat.

Serve immediately in bowls garnished with more oil and pepper. Serves three (or two with seconds). When eating alone, I halve the recipe, and it’s a heaping portion and then some.

For me, a big bowlful is a meal–perhaps with a salad. For guests who eat meat? Grilled Italian-style sausages would make a perfect side dish.

  1. Anna says:

    Sounds delicious. Can you use just regular cornmeal, or do you have to buy polenta. I love the idea of turnip greens. We grow tons of kale each year, but turnip greens blanched, frozen and then sauteed with olive oil and garlic is my new favorite green. Sounds wonderful.

  2. Anna says:

    Just found polenta in the pantry and made it. Amazing how such a simple handful of ingredients can be turned into something so delicious, so quickly. Thanks for this recipe. Will keep it with me for the rest of my years. Perhaps you need to begin thinking about a cookbook!

  3. Hi Margaret,
    This sounds divine. I love all the elements, but unfortunately can’t eat cheese. How do you think it would be if I made it without? Or can you suggest some other ingredient to substitute or compensate for no cheese? Thank you.

    1. Jcb says:

      If you can have nuts, this is a great vegan sub for Parmesan.
      1 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 1/4 teaspoon each of onion and garlic powder. Optional addition: a sheet of toasted nori, torn into small pieces. Pulse all just long enough to be crumbly. Don’t overblend.

      There are many other recipes on the web using cashews or almonds but I like this one best. It’s also earth friendly.

    2. Elle says:

      If you can get your hands on some Nutritional Yeast, it has a taste similar to cheese that you’ll find all kinds of ways to use.

    1. Sharon Giovacchini Johnson says:

      My dad’s mom, my Nonna used to make farinata from left over minestrone soup with beans and kale. The polenta would thicken the soup and when placed in a soup bowl to cool and refrigerate, it would solidify taking the shape of the bowl. Next day she would fry in with a bit of olive oil in a cast iron pan. Tuscan comfort food!

  4. pat says:

    Yum ! I can not wait to try this ! It looks like a big bowl of comfort . The next storm is scheduled to come in tonight and I can be tucked in with good food and some wine !

  5. Amy Hitzig says:

    Thank you for this recipe! I made this last night as our temperatures were steadily dropping from 20’s to single digits following a gray snowy day. We thoroughly enjoyed it, so much that I reheated it this morning and served it with poached eggs nestled in it! Very satisfactory.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Since I have garlic cloves from in season frozen in smallish portions in olive oil I threw LOTS of them whole in the boiling broth along with the chopped stems and cooked that a couple of minutes before proceeding with the recipe. At the end I just added some more of the garlic oil. So it was truly yummy garlicky:-D My husband loves things spicy so he added both black pepper and red pepper flakes to his bowl.
    As a side note I ate the leftovers cold the next day as it was warm out, and that was just as good…so this will be an all seasons recipe for us.Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Chloe Smith says:

    hi Margaret, I used cabbage from my garden here in Savannah to make your corn meal mush. I put a little aside to sauté for breakfast tomorrow morning. Thanks for reminding me of this delicious treat!

  8. Gina Wagner says:

    Did you mean the Dry Corn meal from the cardboard canister, or the tube shaped polenta sold in the refrigerator section of the supermarket??

    1. Jim says:

      Neither, look for a polenta grind corn meal. It’s dry and in the bulk section with rice and flour at the coop and in the bread ingredients section of the supermarket.

  9. Hi Margaret. I’ve been a reader since the beginning, but this is the first time I’ve commented. This was such a wonderful recipe. Easy to prepare, and so flavorful. I’m really knocked out by it. Thank you so much for sharing–this, and everything else. “A Way to Garden” is a gem. I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to tell you!

    1. margaret says:

      You are very kind, thank you. I am grateful that my friend Marco recalled that old recipe years ago and showed it to me from that old old old TV show…and I have been enjoying it since.

  10. Dorothy says:

    Hi, Margaret, I love this recipe, and I’ve been making it farinata since I first saw it on your site in March, 2013. I use Swiss chard (rainbow, or whatever’s in the market).
    Adding the cornmeal works best if you add water to it first and stir. Then whisk into pot. It’s a wonderful, satisfying side or meal. Delicious!

    1. margaret says:

      So glad you love it, too. It’s a “keeper,” right? So many new blog readers hadn’t seen it so it was nice to share again and see more people learn of it.

  11. chandra Slavonic says:

    Any way to print out this recipe? I could not find a print button for this. I think having that ability to print your recipies would be wonderful.

    1. margaret says:

      It’s on the list of new features to be done by spring — sorry meantime. What you can do if you are on a Mac as a workaround is make a screengrab (image) of the recipe …. and drag that image onto a Word document … or just highlight/copy and paste all the type into a Word doc on your desktop and save.

  12. Patty Tyszka says:

    I just came in from emptying an old compost barrel into a cinder block 2-bin system, ready to start the barrel anew. Then I raked and pruned brambles – loving this thaw! Came in to plan dinner and saw this – perfect! Thanks for the recipe. I may add some grilled shrimp!

  13. Cathleen Maloney says:

    Oooo, yes! Cornmeal Mush! Whatever everybody calls it, call it wonderful! I grew up eating it in many different forms and recipes, being a farm girl with grandparents who ground their own corn. Kansas bestowed us with many blizzards and long, bitter cold nights and we were used to it. No sense complaining. Grandma would make mush at night and slice it the next morning to be slavered in home churned butter and warm syrup. Sometimes it was fried and topped with fresh golden yolked eggs. And the soups! Oh my! The one posted here sounds so good! We used chicken stock instead of water and added veggies from the root cellar. I could go on, but, thank you Margaret for sharing with everyone. I truly hope they try it.

  14. Tracy says:

    I’ve made this with a flavorful, homemade chicken stock and use baby spinach leaves instead of cabbage or kale ::::shudder::::. Just delicious and great on a cold or stormy day.

  15. Shelly Murphy says:

    It is redundant here but this soup is just delicious! I used water, chard, a lot of newly dug garlic and freshly pressed olive oil…my grandpa Guido would LOVE it…thank you.

  16. Jennifer aka VTgardener says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Here in Vermont 4B the kale is long history in the garden but a friend told me some years ago to coarse chiffonade cut as you describe, then stuff into containers and freeze. No blanching. The kale is perfect! You can fork out the amount you want, I use it in soup or with white beans or farro all the time. Looking forward to this recipe. Got my seed order from Fedco today! Cheers!

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