Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Slovenian DInner Week 14: Meat Polenta, a Very Odd Ball

Meat Polenta in Seasoned (Non-Italian) Tomato Sauce
Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Green Salad

This Meat Polenta recipe had been on my mind for some time.  It struck me as both odd and easy to make.  I wasn't quite sure how it would taste.

Months ago, I had spotted it in the "International" section of the Progressive Slovene Women of America's cookbook.  So I had no idea what its origins might be.

The name, Meat Polenta, seemed misleading.  A quick reading made it clear that these were meatballs with cornmeal, served in a tomato sauce.  Quite a lot of cornmeal, compared to the proportion of breadcrumbs or rice in a typical meatball recipe.  The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of cornmeal to 3/4 cup (yes, cup!) of ground beef or veal, the equivalent of 6 ounces of meat.  And the directions suggested that the mixture should be "kneaded until spongy."  What was this, a bread dumpling or a meatball?

I doubled the recipe and increased the proportion of meat slightly, just to be on the safe side.  I also gave myself free rein with the sauce suggestion ("3 cups tomato pulp, seasoned to taste.")  And instead of the "rice, noodles, or dumplings" suggested by the Progressive Slovene Women, I used organic whole wheat spaghetti.

1 lb ground beef
1 c. cornmeal
2 eggs
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. paprika
 3 T. onion, minced

Mix all the ingredients.  You can knead if you like, but don't expect it to be spongy!
Form into small balls, which I took to mean about the size of a walnut.

Simmer for 45 minutes in about 3 cups of "seasoned tomato pulp" or whatever sauce you might care to use.  Here is my version:

(Non-Italian Tomato Sauce)

28 oz. crushed organic tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 t. marjoram
1 t. paprika
pinch of sugar
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 T. fresh parsley
splash of mosto (Italian grape must flavoring)
water, if needed.

Brown the onion and garlic in a little olive oil.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes, adjust seasonings, and add the meatballs.  The sauce became pretty thick, so I added some water.

The verdict?  Mixed.

The sauce was a success.  It was quick and easy.  And it felt good to know that  I have now mastered the art of making an impromptu tomato sauce that does NOT taste Italian, which had tended to be my default approach to seasoning.  It would go well, I think, with any number of Central European and Balkan dishes.

The meat polenta itself was another matter.  Those meatballs looked quite nice, as you can see from the top photo.

But they were hard and dry. And odd.  Those little grains of cornmeal were very much in evidence, as you can see from the close up below.

It is hard to know what to make of this recipe.  What was the intention?

Perhap I should have used ground meat with more fat.  Or maybe the meatballs were too small or cooked for too long.  On the other hand, I did use a slightly higher proportion of meat, so the end result should have been even less "corny" than the original.

Only now, more than a month later, does another possibility occur to me.

Perhaps "corn meal" meant cooked cornmeal mush.  Polenta.

Ahh.  Polenta meant one of the ingredients, not the finished product.

Maybe I'll try this again.

But not for awhile.

Update in November: Go here for the new, improved version!


  1. hmmm... sounds like it would be similar to kibbie, perhaps?

  2. Interesting, Ruth! Thanks! That is kind of like the texture, come to think of it. But one big difference: kibbeh tastes good :-)