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On Your Mark, Get Set: The Great Corn Meal Scavenger Hunt

2011 March 15

By Brianna BainAllison’s Provençal Onion Pizza creation – a use of fresh and readily available ingredients – got me thinking about the nature of simple, straightforward cooking. It seems that in many cases a great meal can be extremely basic, food in its simplest form can make the best meals. Allison’s evocation of traditional Mediterranean cuisine inspired me to keep things simple in the next leg of the relay.  I have decided to relay one of the more minor ingredients of her pizza – corn meal – whose versatility I will showcase with a polenta creation. Polenta is another popular Mediterranean dish with a rich history; it has crossed cultural lines and climbed social ladders from its impoverished roots to gourmet restaurants around the world.

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As a novice to polenta making, I scoured my cookbooks and found that there are several approaches, all starting with a mixture of cornmeal and water.  From there you can add heavy cream, milk, butter, herbs, bread crumbs, cheese, or egg.  I am hoping to make a successful polenta without many additions.  I did however find an irresistible goat jack cheese from Spring Hill Cheese Company in Petaluma, CA at my local farmers market.  Spring Hill offers some of the tastiest aged and raw goat cheeses I have found so far in my ongoing hunt for California-produced goat cheese.  I chose a harder goat jack that could either be grated as a topping or make for a delicious binder – a fail safe in case my cornmeal, water and olive oil mix did not achieve the consistency that I was hoping for.  I also picked up a few bunches of curly kale and rainbow chard to dress my polenta up with a bit of color and boost of nutritional value.

With all but the core ingredient in-tow, I needed to get my hands on some organic corn meal.  Little did I know I was in for a scavenger hunt.  It turns out that organic corn meal is not as readily available as I had imagined. A trip to my local, usually “one-stop” market left me surprised to find only conventional corn meal selections, and I was unable to locate any information on the use of non-GMO corn for any of the available options.  This is a perfect example of the great need for labeling and more information on the risks of GMO.  For me, conventional/non-organic corn is not an option, but I encourage you to  make up your own mind about that. I pressed on, searching for organic corn meal that I hoped was in my future.  Just when it was looking like I was going to be polentaless – Arrowhead Mills Organic corn meal came to the rescue via my local Sprouts market.  Arrowhead Mills is a 50 year old company that began as a small company in the Texas panhandle and grew into a national business that now occupies a 20-acre site, complete with labs where they conduct diligent gluten free testing.  They also maintain sustainable farming practices with no harmful chemical pesticides or herbicides, and are taking decisive steps to shrink their carbon footprint and conserve our planet’s resources.

My search for all the makings of a simple and tasty polenta has left me with feeling thankful for the access I have to fresh, organic and local ingredients.  As a long time seeker of food that fits the above criteria I continue to notice the increase in available choices – which in turn gives me more freedom to experiment in the kitchen.  More companies are catching on, farmers markets are gaining more popularity than ever before and retailers are willing to special order to meet the needs of a growing population of consumers who are looking for good food that is good for you and good for the planet!

I’ll see you back here on Thursday for a simple polenta creation!

-Brianna