Polenta with Porcini

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Today is our last full day in Italy, we visited Ferrara, a city not so far from Venice which according to some was the birth place of the Italian Renaissance. Just like all the other places we have visited on this trip a place of beauty and history. Apparently Ferrara and Venice were rivals way back then, although to my eyes the magic of Venice is incomparable to any other city I have ever seen, maybe with the exception of Amsterdam. Art in these Italian cities is (almost) everywhere, which makes me wonder what has happened in our development as human beings. I don’t just mean art as in “high art”, but the art which takes place in a setting where beautiful buildings, paintings colours and melodic sounds adorn the everyday life, art as a state of mind.
When and why did we collectively decided that it was okay to build ugly buildings of cheap and often unhealthy materials, which probably will not survive the test of time, or to not wear beautifully simple elegant clothing on a daily basis, or eat lunch from a paper or plastic container while walking hurriedly to work? And, what are we glorifying with our present art anyway?

This afternoon at one of the many museums in Ferrara I saw a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary with her baby, there are probably thousands of those just here in Italy, but this particular one attracted my attention because it showed Mary with one naked breast which her baby was touching, just like all breastfed babies have always done. This painting made me wonder when and why did it become ugly, unacceptable and even illegal to openly breastfeed a baby in some places in the world?

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I see a direct correlation between an artistic approach to life, which is our birth right and our approach to cooking delicious nourishing meals. Italy is not utopia or unique in this respect, all cultures have created beautiful and meaningful art, and it’s up to us to live our lives in a way which honours the artist in each of us with our daily creations and actions. Maybe that appreciation for beauty and tradition which still seems to be an integral part of Italy is what so many find so magnetising, it is a a place with a living legacy which speaks to us at a very deep level.

On a more down to earth note, I managed to make a nice Polenta on our primitive camping kitchen which I want to share with you.

Polenta with Porcini

6 cups water
1 bouillon cube
1/2 cup dry porcini mushrooms
sea salt
1 1/2 cup polenta

Mushroom Tomato Topping
2 tbs olive oil
4 cups of champignons sliced
4 cloves of garlic crushed
3 large tomatoes roughly chopped in medium sizes pieces
sea salt

-in a deep heavy pan bring water to the boiling point
-add the bouillon cube and the dry porcini, cook until the bouillon is dissolved and the porcini is soft
-add the polenta little by little in a continuos stream while stirring to prevent lumps
-add salt and stir regularly
-cook for about 40 minutes at low fire(using a flame deflector) and keep stirring regularly with a wooden spoon
-when the polenta is nice and creamy turn off the fire and let it sit
-in a wider pan warm the olive oil and add the mushrooms and a bit of salt
-stir and cooking until the mushrooms have lost all their water and are tasty and fragrant
-add the tomatoes and stir in a pinch of salt
-add the garlic
-again cook stirring until the juices of the tomatoes are diminished
-check for salt
-serve polenta in a soup plate topped with the mushroom tomatoes topping
-garnish with chopped flat leave parsley

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