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Il Paiolo

  • March 15, 2009

Click on the little triangle to start the video.

This paiolo, or automated polenta pot, makes me happy. I know, I know — to a lot of people, watching this video is about as much fun as watching dishes dry. But to me (and maybe to some of you foodies out there) it’s like Christmas all over again.
I’d been oogling an automated polenta pot on my last five or six visits to the Alto Adige region of Italy where we go skiing. But every time I went, I nixed the idea of buying one for one reason or another — too big to fit in the carry-on luggage, too difficult to convert to U.S. electric standards, too expensive, blah, blah, blah.

But this time I gave in to the object of my desire. It’s a really heavy gauge copper pot with a metal paddle that stirs the polenta automatically thanks to an electric motor on top that l’ingeniere (my husband, the engineer) derides as puny and not durable. It cost 45 euros (about $63) and was cheaper than I’d seen it even five years ago.
That’s because the electric motor on top is puny and not durable, repeats l’ingeniere.

I bought it anyway. The copper pot alone would cost that in the states. And it works great. And I love it. And I know l’ingeniere secretly loves it too. Because he loves anything mechanical. Because the day after we got back he ordered the step-up transformer I needed to run it. And because he loves the polenta it churns out.

All you have to do is put cornmeal, water and salt into the bowl over a burner, attach the paddle, press a button and walk away. Sixty minutes later you’ve got really good, really creamy polenta. Who wouldn’t love that?

We took it up to Vermont with us a few days ago while visiting friends. I used it for a dinner of polenta with sausages, meatballs and short ribs in tomato sauce. It was a no-fuss meal and perfect for after skiing, since I had made the sauce at home earlier in the week. We sat back and relaxed with some wine and munchies while the sauce heated up and the polenta pot performed its magic. An hour later we sat down to this:
I used three parts water to one part polenta and about 1/2 tsp. salt. You can have the same results without a motorized polenta pot, but you’ll have to stir for 45 minutes to an hour.
I confess that in the past, I’ve used that quick-cooking polenta too and it’s really not bad. But no self-respecting Italian would ever use that, so please don’t tell any of my Italian friends or they may never invite me back. I’ll be posting the recipe for the sauce (which is great with pasta too) in the next few days.

Here’s a second video showing what it looks like when the polenta is fully cooked.