Love Pasta, Hate Polenta

May 9, 2007 at 12:57 am (Uncategorized)

On Monday night, I made the most diabolically bad meal I think I’ve ever served. It was verging on inedible. In fact, I didn’t eat the thing that really derailed it, and that was the polenta. I’m not a fan. I’m sure there are a few people in the world who can turn out a delicious serve of polenta, but now I know beyond any doubt at all that I am not one of them.

It was one of those nights when Llew caught up with Dan after work. What happens when Llew goes out is that I just keep working at my desk. This is excellent, really, because the later Llew is, the more work I get done on my manuscript. I redrafted about 32 pages on Monday thanks to those extra hours working back. It was a great, hugely productive day. But when Llew let me know he was on his way home, I realised I hadn’t had dinner, I hadn’t remotely thought about dinner, and I hadn’t really any idea of what was in the house to make for dinner. It was going to be a barrel scrape.

We had some sausages. That was a start. I thought we had potatoes but we only had a few small pebbles left. Yes, I know it’s time we went grocery shopping, but thanks for the reminder. But I did find an unopened packet of polenta in the cupboard. Beauty, I thought. We can have a polenta mash instead of a potato mash. Bangers and mash, coming right up. We also had some Gravox, red wine, and cream, so I knew I could make some kind of gravy. Things were starting to come together.

Except then I made the polenta. God, that stuff is gluggy, starchy shit. I am a porridge fan – it’s porridge season right now, as a matter of fact, and I am loving it every morning for breakfast – so I have nothing against stuff that’ll stick to your ribs, but what the hell is with polenta? I read once it has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, none, and in the countries where it’s part of the staple diet, people actually suffer from malnutrition because they’re eating polenta the whole time. Why eat it, then? Well, because it’s filling, I guess, and sometimes people just need to stop feeling hungry.

I don’t like eating just to get rid of the hunger pangs, and I’m extremely fortunate that it’s something I’ve only very rarely had to resort to. I really like everything I eat to taste good, whether it’s in a gourmet kind of way, a raw kind of way, or a flat-out I-want-pizza kind of way. Everything should taste good. And polenta does not taste good. Polenta tastes like shit. It depressed me, sitting there on the plate in a lumpen mass. That mealy consistency. That yellowy colour. Everything about it seemed primed to disappoint. And disappoint it did.

Llew somehow choked the whole meal down – the pile of polenta, the sausages, and the coagulated gravy (not my best, I think it kind of curdled and gave up when it saw it was accompanying the polenta), but I ate a couple of mouthfuls of the polenta and gave up. I had sausages and gravy for dinner instead.

So last night, I went back to my tried and true easy midweek dinner instead. Pasta. Boy, it was good to be back on solid ground. I marinated some smoked salmon in lemon juice. Then I cleaned some rocket. Then I sliced a punnet of grape tomatoes in half, spread them on a tray, and scattered them with freshly chopped chilli, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I roasted them on a low temperature in the oven. Then I grated a pile of Grana Padano. Then I cooked a packet of spaghetti until it was al dente. Then I combined all the ingredients and threw in some capers.

Pasta’s great, and once you know anything about combining flavours, which most of us do because we’ve spent our whole lives feeding our faces, then you start to understand how perfect pasta is because it just helps you bring different flavours together. The food wraps itself around the pasta. Think about, say, another midweek instant standby: penne pesto. You need virtually nothing for this meal. Basil, lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, salt and pepper and a packet of penne pasta. That’s it. You don’t even need cream, but you can add it if you want to. And what do you know? The pesto slides around all through the penne, it sits in those little penne tunnels, so that every little morsel is coated in those wonderful fresh flavours. The thing I love about pasta is it’s so good as the supporting cast – it has no designs on the lead role.

I haven’t even said anything about spaghetti bolognese. Maybe the Italians say it’s not authentic, but I don’t care. Spag bol was, is, and shall always be the comfort food par excellence. Sometimes it feels so homey and good I could cry into my mince. I love it. I love pasta. And all those people who say you’re not supposed to eat carbs after six o’clock at night are missing out. I love the fact a bowl of pasta makes me feel full and sleepy at night. Isn’t that one of the very best things ever about being home?!


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