buckwheat flavored polenta with mushrooms
and marcella's two wine braised pork chops

Polenta. The real thing. Soft and gooey, complemented by some flavorful attention getter. Like melted cheese inside and tomato sauce with sausages on top. We like it a lot and yet we never got around to trying it ourselves for so long. There is this mental warning label attached: patience required while you stir forever as it slowly cooks.  We had it at Colleen's when she lived in New York and indeed it seemed pretty laborious. Valeria served it to us once in Rome and we missed the work, but the memory of the taste stuck in our memories. Mario took us to a terrific restaurant in Venice one foggy evening in January and we tried the polenta special. Yum. So why no spark of initiative on our part?

John and Gulnur finally set us an example, serving their soft polenta with a simple chicken in tomato sauce topping. Wow, it hit home again. But this time our complex carb radar went off. While bob used to be the mashed potato king in his youth, potatoes had been off the frequent use list for some time now with the new carb awareness of the household in the new century. But polenta is a whole grain mashed potato substitute! So when we were grousing around for an idea of a carb to pair with our pork chops one Saturday night a few days later, polenta popped into our imaginations. Hmm, we have some many year old corn meal hanging around in the dormant bread machine ingredient shelf of the pantry. Quaker Yellow Corn Meal in one of those round cardboard box containers like their famous oat meal my dad used all his adult life. We consult Marcella who recommends the coarse corn meal. Our box had no qualifiers. Seemed fine grained though. It would have to do because polenta was on the dinner menu by now and we did not want to leave the house to search for the real thing. But Marcella also mentioned a 50-50 cornmeal buckwheat flour mix polenta, so we decided to sexy up our unspecific US corn meal in a 75-25 ratio, using up the last remaining bit almost of our buckwheat flour supply languishing in the refrigerator waiting to flavor some pancakes or bread, but the bread machine had not been fired up for some years already.

We started out with about 3 1/2 c water for our 1 cup polenta mix and one of us slowly poured it into our nonstick pot while the other whisked it quickly to make a smooth glop. Which turned into a highly viscous still pretty smooth glop in only 5 minutes, which was way too soon for the standard cooking time of 45 minutes, surprising us considerably. We put it on low heat and got some water boiling in a teapot, and every 10 minutes or so added in maybe a half cup or less of boiling water and stirred it in to wake up our polenta, without which it would have stiffened up beyond our acceptable limits. The pork chops still had to finish cooking after all. The mushrooms were also waiting, since they were done pretty quick. So finally the chops were ready and as far as we were concerned, the polenta had been ready after 10 minutes. What is all that cooking time necessary for?

We assembled the dish. A bed of the grayish tinted polenta, followed by the mushrooms, a spoon of the tomato wine sauce from the chops on the mushrooms, and then the parsley-flecked pork chop placed carefully on top. bob pushed his on the side immediately to cut it up so we could have just as well put it there initially. It looked good. And it tasted good. The four people portions tempted bob to go for a double helping (it proved to be too much but resistance seemed futile), while ani went for a more reasonable smaller second portion. Success on the first try is a good sign, even without fancy authentic ingredients. Looks like we'll be doing polenta more frequently from now on.


soft polenta
3/4 c corn meal
1/4 c buckwheat flour
1/2 T salt (?!)
5 c water
sautéed mushrooms
about 8 oz chopped mushrooms (we used half white mushrooms and half baby bellas)
2 T butter and 1 T oil
marcella's two wine pork chops
4 small sliced pork chops (1/2 inch)
3 T olive oil
flour spread on a plate
1 t garlic chopped (we just pressed it)
1 T tomato paste, dissolved in a mixture of 1/2 c Marsala and 1/2 c dry young red wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 t fennel seeds
1 T chopped parsley


  1. Start the pork chops first since they take the longest. Press the chops onto the flour on each side and shake off excess flour.
  2. Heat the oil on medium heat and cook the chops until both sides are nicely browned, a few minutes say on each side.
  3. Add the garlic, stirring it into the oil and when it has cooked slightly (but not burned!), add in the wine-tomato-paste mixture and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and add the fennel seeds.
  4. Simmer the wine "briskly" for about 20 seconds.
  5. Then turn the heat down to a low simmer, cover the pan with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for about 1 hour until the meat feels tender when fork tested. [We could have left it longer to get a bit more tender.] Turn over the chops occasionally.
  6. When ready, add the parsley and turn the chops over 2 or 3 times to get the parsley to stick.
  7. Marcella goes on to remove the chops and most of the fat, add 1/2 c water and make gravy stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until thick enough to pour over the chops, but we were content to stop with the wine sauce as it was.

  8. Boil 5 c water, and then slowly whisk in the polenta mixture and add the salt, while continuously whisking. At some point switch to a large wooden spoon.
  9. Pretend to stir frequently but let it go for a bit in between stirring. You can always add a bit more boiling water if it gets away from you. Don't take this too seriously.
  10. When it seems like you can call it quits, remove from the heat and serve promptly, otherwise it will stiffen up and you lose the comfort food aspect.

  11. If the mushrooms are not already chopped (ours were), prep them.
  12. Heat the butter and oil and sauté the mushrooms until the water they shed is evaporated and they are softened. Maybe 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat but leave on the burner.

  13. Put the desired portion of polenta down first, then put some mushrooms on top and spoon some of the tomato wine sauce over them. Place a pork chop against the edge of the polenta, or if you like vertical presentation, on top of the pile. Enjoy.


  1. Marcella Hazan. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
  2. Feel free to surf the internet for alternative polenta accompaniment ideas. We certainly will. Vegetarians can try tofu and/or cheese. Vegans, you already have to be pretty inventive to survive, so you'll probably figure this one out too.
  3. Illustrations available.
polentaprkchps.htm: 25-feb-2006 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]