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Mamaliga (Romanian Polenta)

By: 
Tina Wasserman

When corn was introduced to Europe after the discovery of the New World, it was widely received. However, growing conditions were not favorable in many regions, and colloquial biases to certain grains such as oats or rye diminished interest in corn. The Romanians loved the corn and the porridge made from its grain, mamaliga. The Jewish community subsisted on the cornmeal porridge morning, noon, and night, adding slightly different ingredients to each meal to vary the taste. Their love for mamaliga was so great that Romanian Jews were referred to as “Mamaligas” long after they crossed the Atlantic.

Makes 16 2-inch x 2-inch pieces
Ingredients: 
2 cups milk, preferably whole or 2%
2 cups water, divided use
1 cup polenta or coarse corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste (depends on saltiness of feta)
10 grindings of fresh white pepper
2 tablespoons butter (salted butter is okay if desired)
2 ounces feta cheese, drained and crumbled
1/2 cup small-curd 4% fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Sour cream (optional)
Directions: 
  1. Heat 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of water in a microwave oven for 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Combine 1 cup polenta with 1 cup of water, salt, and pepper in a 2-quart saucepan.
  3. Add the hot liquid to the polenta mixture and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk for about 7 minutes, until the milk has been absorbed by the meal. The mixture will feel thick but still runny. Remove from the heat.
  4. Stir in the butter, crumbled feta, and cottage cheese. Mix until butter has melted and cheeses are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
  5. Preheat an oven to 350°F.
  6. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish. Stir the cornmeal to break up any lumps, and pour mixture into pan. Smooth top and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve immediately or at room temperature, or chill and cut into slices and brown in butter in a frying pan. Serve as is or topped with a little sour cream.

 

Tina's Tidbits: 

Variations

  • Use all water and pareve margarine and serve with stews or pot roast.
  • Add cream cheese instead of feta and 2 tablespoons of sugar and even add some raisins for a sweet, but not traditional, alternative.

I first tried the following polenta fritters stuffed with anchovy paste at Walter Potenza’s restaurant. Joyce Goldstein, in her book Cucina Ebraica calls them Rebecchine de Gerusalemme. Using this recipe for mamaliga, the fritters are even more rich and delicious.

  • Place one tin of anchovy fillets with the oil in the can in a small frying pan, and cook over low heat, mashing the anchovies into a paste.
  • Cut slices from the mamaliga that are 1/2-inch thick and as wide as they are tall.
  • Carefully slice each square in half so that each side is 1/4-inch thick.
  • Spread a little anchovy paste over one half, and sandwich both sides together.
  • Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a shallow bowl, and cover a plate with 1/2 cup of flour.
  • Heat a frying pan for 20 seconds. Add 1/4 inch of oil in the pan, and heat for another 10 seconds.
  • Dip the polenta squares in the egg to moisten, and coat thoroughly with the flour.
  • Add coated squares to the frying pan 3 or 4 at a time, and fry over moderately high heat until the squares are crisp and lightly golden. Remove from oil, drain on paper towel, and serve immediately or when still warm.
  • Serves 4–6 if you don’t use all of the mamaliga and don’t double the anchovies.
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