polenta agnolotti with porcinis, quince, and frisee

Corn is a grass.  There are thousands of varieties of corn.  No one knows how ancient people living in what is now Mexico transformed a particular inedible, small, unremarkable species of grass into the basis for the great civilizations that thrived there. Corn is a weapon of U.S. imperialism.  Corn’s unique chemical structure enables a lot of cool textures in foods.  Corn is a weapon against people in food deserts, as well as people who choose to buy into industrial food.  Many kinds of corn have to be treated with slake lime in order to become edible.  Corn is a lot of things.  Between 1500 and 1700 corn, along with potatoes, transformed European agriculture, especially in places where it was difficult to grow wheat, like in some parts of north/central Italy.  And polenta was born.  Here is a basic polenta agnolotti that can be served with lots of things, including tomato sauce.  Here it goes with a simple mix of fruit, vegetables, and mushrooms.  

Polenta agnolotti:

1 ball pasta dough (link below)

7 cups water

1 cup polenta

1 tablespoon of salt (and more to taste)

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed

¼ cup olive and argan oil, olive oil, or any flavorful oil.


2 medium shallots

1 head frisee (or other bitter green)

2 Tablespoons of diced quince (or apple or firm pear)

1 fresh porcini mushroom or ¼ cup dried porcini.

½ a cup dry white wine, (or tablespoon of wine vinegar)

2 sprigs of thyme, picked

Marc Vetri(aka the dark lord) says this is the only way he knows how to make polenta:

Bring 6 cups of water to a simmer, whisk in 1 cup of polenta so as to avoid lumps.  Simmer this over the lowest flame possible for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring almost constantly.  I use a non-stick pan which helps, but you still have to stir a lot.  Most good polentas are unique, so you may have to add in some more water as it cooks in order to fully hydrate it, like I did with the “heirloom polenta” from Fair Food. At the end of cooking, it should be smooth so that as you stir in the ¼ cup of oil it becomes creamy.  While this is cooking, you can prepare everything else:

Make this semolina dough, but add a flavorful nut oil like walnut or argan instead of olive oil, if you so desire.  Now you can mince your shallots, dice your quince (or apple or pear),  slice your fresh porcini (if using), and trim your frisee (or kale or radicchio).  When the polenta is done, fold in your crushed hazelnuts. Here is a quick video of the basic process of folding agnolotti (the relevant section starts around 1:07).It’s pretty straightforward: After the dough is rested, roll it out as thin as possible into large sheets at least 3 inches wide.  Either using a pastry bag or just a spoon or whatnot, make a line of polenta down the dough long-ways, about 1 inch away from the edge.  Moisten the edge of the pasta and fold it over the polenta, pinching it closed, trying to get all the air out.  Then, using your hand, press on the encased line of polenta every inch or so, pushing the polenta out from under your hand and sealing the agnolotti.  Use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut them into individual pieces.  

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the fresh or dry mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  When they’ve started to gain color, add the shallots and fruit.  Cook, stirring, until the shallots lose their raw smell.  At that time add the thyme and the wine or vinegar and cook until the pan is almost dry, or “sec.” Add ½ cup of water and cook until the quince and/or the dried mushrooms are tender. When they are tender, drop your agnolotti in the boiling salted water.  Add the greens to the mushroom pan, season them and stir them in.  Cook everything for about a minute longer and then, using a slotted spoon, drop the agnolotti in to the vegetables.  Stir to combine and then plate.