My Mom is a Genius!

I have made polenta about a thousand times. Small batches, big batches, by hand, with my two different Italian polenta pots…. and I have NEVER had a problem with lumps. I’ve always used the method of making a whirlpool in the water with my whisk, and slowly adding the polenta. Well, the other night, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention; maybe I added the polenta too quickly, maybe it was the fancy Anson Mills Artisan polenta that I had bought, I dunno. But as soon as it hit the water: LUMPS! Big, ugly lumps. I should have taken a photo. I whisked and whisked and was able to make the lumps somewhat smaller, but they were still there. I decided I had to get going on the rest of the meal, and figured I would deal with the lumps later, so I attached my Italian polenta stirrer to the pot and went about making my meatballs. About a half hour later, my mom comes into the kitchen and I tell her about the lumps. “Just use the immersion blender” she casually says. OMG. Why didn’t I think of that? I took the stirrer out, put the blender in, and voilà, no more lumps! Mom saved the day. And the polenta. It was delicious.

Pork Meatballs (Albondigas) with Tomato Sauce and Polenta

Ingredients
For the Meatballs:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 onion, chopped very fine
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/4 lb. ground pork

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil (or a few fresh basil leaves)
  • 1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Polenta:

  • 1 cup Polenta (I really do like the Anson Mills brand, even though I had problems with it this time)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Salt to taste

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Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 4 cups of water in a heavy pot (3 1/2 cups if using Anson Mills). If you have a copper pot, now’s the time to use it. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have an Italian self-stirring copper polenta pot, even better! (If you want to read the story about my Italian Polenta pot, click here) Once the water is boiling, add a large pinch of salt. Create a whirlpool with your whisk and very slowly pour the polenta in, all the while stirring with the whisk. Turn the heat down to low and continue to stir until it starts to thicken a little, just a few minutes. Keep stirring frequently for the next 30-45 minutes until the polenta is creamy. Taste to see if it’s done. The grains should be soft and melt in your mouth. If you have a sous-chef, enlist them to do the stirring while you continue with the rest of the meal.

While the polenta cooks, make the tomato sauce. Add the olive oil to a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and spices and cook for another minute, till you just start to smell the garlic. Put the tomatoes through a food mill, directly into the pot. If you don’t have a food mill, you can also just crush them with your hands and then pour them into the pot. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your polenta! Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it perk away.

Meanwhile, make your meatballs. In a bowl, add all of the ingredients except the pork. Mix well. Add the pork to this mixture and mix together with your hands, till it just comes together. Don’t over mix, or they will get tough. (If you want to test the seasoning, make one tiny patty – think a one-inch mini hamburger – and sauté it in a little olive oil and taste.) Roll mixture into meatballs, about 1 1/2 inch in diameter and place on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until firm. Gently remove them from the sheet pan and drop into the tomato sauce. Simmer slowly until the polenta is done.

Once the polenta is soft and creamy, turn off the heat, add the butter and parm, and adjust the salt if needed.

Serve in shallow bowls with polenta on the side, or in a deeper bowl with polenta in the middle and the meatballs and sauce right on top.

 

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