Let your polenta cook slowly and it'll quickly become a winter favourite, says Jenni.
During icy-cold evenings polenta - the northern Italian cornmeal porridge - appears frequently on the dinner table at home. Actually I'm lying: it appears frequently on the sofa in front of the television.
Personally I love polenta but I'm never surprised when people tell me they don't like it because usually all they've had is the instant variety. Organic stoneground polenta is something else, like the difference between 'instant oat-based cereal' and traditional Scottish porridge made with proper oatmeal, or white sliced bread and a great rye sourdough, or instant coffee and hand-roasted varieties. Stoneground polenta smells sweetly and strongly of corn, and has a softly uneven texture that constantly reminds you it's simply ground corn kernels.
Both white and yellow polenta are available and you can get organic stoneground polenta from Machiavelli, an Italian food distributor that also has its own restaurant, deli and mail order business. Another good option is the stoneground polenta from Savoria. These varieties are not ready in five minutes but contrary to what some recipe books may have you believe, they don't require 45 minutes of back-breaking stirring either.
Certainly some of the old Italian traditions for making polenta are charming - like cooking it in a copper pot over a wood fire and (rather as with barbecues) getting the male of the household to do it. But this is the 21st century. You don't have to stir it constantly if you use a good non-stick saucepan. And that whole effort of raining the polenta through your fingers while desperately stirring to discourage lumps? No: boil the water in your kettle, put the polenta and salt in your saucepan, and add the boiled water gradually to the saucepan, stirring as you do so. Much easier, and the kettle-boiled water will still be hot enough to burst the starch grains nicely.
Once it's underway, you only need to stir it occasionally while you're making your sauce or other accompaniment. Towards the end of cooking it does spit and is extremely hot. You need to use your longest-handled spoon - I tend to use one of those flat-ended wooden paddles because they fit nicely into the corners of the saucepan. It's also worth wearing a long oven mitt and standing a couple of feet away from the stove.
For a simpler option, try cooking polenta in the slow cooker. It needs two hours on high for stoneground polenta but you just toss it in, cover and let it cook itself, so it's less work even than using instant polenta. Old Italian cooks may sniff at less traditional cooking methods, but then corn is an American crop - so if anyone complains you can tell them it's grits.