One of my most enduring food memories is stomping into a steamy on-piste bar, under the brow of the Matterhorn (or Monte Cervino as the Italians call it) for a dish of ‘polenta grassa’ (fat polenta).
I could have had polenta with sausages, stew, goulash, mushrooms, chamois, venison, wild boar or goat. However the dish at the top of my list is an old favourite – polenta grassa under its other name, Polenta Valdostana. Served in a dangerously hot earthenware dish, it consists of layers of soft polenta, butter and the unctuous fontina cheese of the Val D’Aosta, whacked in the oven until the cheese melts.
Polenta, yellow maize flour, is one of the staple foods of northern Italy, particularly of Lombardy and the Veneto, where boiled polenta very often takes the place of bread. It’s not very exciting in its plain boiled form, but Polenta Grassa is something else entirely. It’s not difficult to make, as long as your stirring arm is in good nick. Or you could try the new instant polenta versions and skip the hard work.
1 ½ litres water
250g fontina cheese
25g butter (Italians would use unsalted)
salt, white pepper
Boil the water in a sturdy pot then pour in the polenta, stirring.with a wooden spoon until it is a thick, smooth mass. Cook slowly, stiring more or less constantly for the time specified on the pack – 20 to 50 minutes. If you’re using “instant polenta” follow the directions on the pack. Have ready a buttered, ovenproof dish.
Spread it with a layer of polenta, and on this put slices of fontina, and small pieces of butter; then another layer of polenta, and more cheese and butter. Cook in the oven or under the grill until the top is browned.