When you ask a Romanian about our traditional cuisine, they will most likely mention polenta. It is a traditional side dish, or breakfast, or light dinner, and even a cure for colds – prepared quite watery, drunk from a mug with a dollop of butter on top, then off to bed to sweat the cold off.
Polenta is our comfort food; it takes us back to our grandparents and further back to our ancestors. It belongs to the family of porridge, and dare I say, risottos since they all use the same technique of cooking starchy grains.
It is also very popular in Northern Italy and served in all restaurants from the budget ones to the very expensive. Although Italians say that polenta is for poor people, it is a staple of their cuisine in the north.
We kind of have the same attitude to polenta as the Italians. Go to dinner to a young Romanian family’s house, second of third generation of city people, and they would probably explain that they hadn’t eaten it in years. It’s more of a tourist thing, rather than a constant presence in the modern families’ life.
Polenta is very versatile, so here it is the breakfast version, with egg, cheese and bacon, baked in the oven in the traditional way.
200g Cheshire cheese (or Cheddar, or parmesan)
4 rashes of bacon
a sprinkle of chives or rosemary
Put the polenta in a deep bowl and add the boiling water on top. Cover with a plate or lid and leave to soak for 3 minutes. Stir once, and leave it for another minute. Then add the cheese, butter, salt and herbs, and mix well.
Choose a ceramic pan or bowl that can go in the oven. Pour in the polenta, just over half way up. Make a little well in the middle and quickly break the eggs. Put in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
In the meantime, add a drizzle of oil to a frying pan and cook the bacon, at slow pace, turning once or twice till the bacon is crisp. Put aside on a kitchen towel to drain.
Serve: take the polenta out of the oven and add the bacon on top.
Tip: polenta is a flavour carrier, just like risotto or pasta. This actually means that you can add almost anything you like to it: chorizo, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pesto (like a ripple), black-pudding etc