At the end of a long day at work, it’s hard to work up the energy to cook dinner. Pizza delivery seems easy, but takeout can be very expensive.
Preparing meals for the freezer is less expensive but requires advance planning and storage space. Pasta is easily cooked and is on the table quickly, but eventually that gets boring.
Don’t be so quick to give up on Italian food. Southern Italian food is famous for its pizza and pasta with tomato sauce, but there are lots of other choices.
Northern Italians do eat pasta, but they prefer their starches in the form of rice & cornmeal. These staple foods are not only inexpensive, but can be transformed into delicious meals.
Old Fashioned Polenta
Polenta is a finely ground corn meal made from white or yellow corn. Traditionally, polenta is cooked in a pot for half an hour or more until thick, requiring constant stirring to prevent lumps from forming. This cereal can be eaten with meaty sauces or butter and cheese.
Modern Options Speed Up Polenta
Modern cooks can find quick cook versions of this grain, making the tedious stirring a thing of the past. In the five minutes that this cereal takes to cook, you can warm some precooked meat in a jar of good quality spaghetti sauce and assemble a salad. For a soothing supper, it is also delicious topped with butter, milk and honey.
Try Store Bought Polenta
If freshly cooked, polenta placed in a container and refrigerated, polenta will become firm.
It can be sliced into pieces and cooked in casseroles, deep fried or even eaten instead of bread. Most large supermarkets now sell refrigerated tubes of precooked polenta that are ready to slice. Packages of plain and pre-seasoned chilled polenta are available and can be used interchangeably with sliced homemade polenta in recipes.
Rice can be found in many parts of the world, but Italy’s rice has been developed to have unique cooking properties. Arborio is the type of Italian rice most often found in American supermarkets. The short grains are bred to withstand long cooking times without becoming mushy. As the rice is stirred in liquid, it releases starches that make creamy sauce, even without the addition of oil.
Like polenta, this grain requires constant stirring. Many people eat risotto with butter and cheese stirred in after the rice is tender, but it can also be used to create decadent meals with fresh seafood or dried wild mushrooms. It is even used to cook creamy rice desserts.
Cooking Under Pressure
Using a pressure cooker to make risotto is not traditional, but gives excellent results. Saute the dry rice grains in some oil with whatever seasonings you wish to use, then add broth and bring to pressure. After the rice is done cooking, you can stir in any ingredients that will be overcooked by pressure cooking, such as cheese or seafood.
Rice in a Hurry
Precooked risotto hasn’t become available, but quick cooking rice only takes two minutes to cook. It won’t have the precise texture of the traditional grain, but is worth trying with your family. Quick arborio rice is also great for impromptu desserts.
Even though traditional Italian recipes for polenta and risotto require attending to the dishes for long periods of time, modernizations have made it possible for even busy families to enjoy them. Try out these two Italian dishes and see how much time they can save you in your kitchen.