We'll take pretty much any excuse to get friends together and the standard holidays aren't nearly enough in our opinion. So, we're all about getting together as often as possible with Meg from This Mess Is Ours and Kate of ¡Hola! JALAPEÑO to have a dinner party. One winter party I'm super partial to is an Italian polenta party.
It's a party you can throw anytime of year but we like the idea of lighting a fire and slow cooking up lots and lots of comfort food.
So What Is A Polenta Party?
Polenta parties are nothing more than a dinner party where you make an insane amount of creamy polenta, spread it out on cutting boards (or in Italy they traditionally would put it on wood planks) and top it with a bunch of braised goodness. When you travel to Northern Italy (aka ground zero for polenta), this is pretty standard dinner party and we think it's high time we do it more often stateside.
But, Wait, What Is Polenta?
If you are a little lost and asking “what is polenta and what is polenta made from?” We’ve got you covered. Polenta is a dish from Italy that is made with cornmeal and other grains. Think of it like Italy's answer to grits except that it's made with a different grind of cornmeal and not quite as heavy.
Since it’s made with nothing but corn flour and water (or broth), the quality of the corn flour is key to the taste. Traditionalists cook polenta in a cooper-lined pot and, like risotto, stir it constantly while it cooks. Our recipe is an easier, quick version of traditional polenta but is just as delicious. Since it's just a couple ingredients, make sure you get really good quality polenta (Anson Mills! Bob's Red Mill!) so it's as tasty as possible. Oh and sometimes the polenta is baked or boiled, polenta it is a dish that can complement almost anything since you can add ingredients to add other flavors, as well.
Polenta Party Menu Planning
Mind you the polenta is pretty filling so you don't need to go all out on the appetizers like we did. In all honesty, we think creamy polenta on its own can truly be a winner. But then we like to have a lot of flavor happening at our parties and all of these recipes make for delicious leftovers! And, of course, you'll want to include lots of toppings to up the flavor! We included both pesto and romesco sauce as well as loads of pine nuts, roasted garlic, slow-roasted tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and top notch sea salt and olive oil for shaving over the top.
Here's what we served and how to recreate some of the best polenta recipes:
How To Thow A Polenta Party
The truth is when you travel to Italy you'll see that there aren't many rules when it comes to a polenta party. The old school way to throw a polenta party in Italy this would be to pour the creamy polenta directly onto a wooden table and then top it with a braise or sugo. But I say do what you please! Pour the polenta on a long wooden plank like we did or even get wood slices and top with parchment paper for invididual servings.
I'd suggest doing leaning into the Italian-inspired recipes. Aside from that make sure you have at least one vegetarian and one meat main so that everyone is satisified. Then it's up to you. Of course, choosing slow-cooked dishes are best since they can be made a day or two ahead. Speaking of, I make the polenta a day ahead or morning of and then slowly warm it in a slow cooker, whisking in any water as needed to make it pourable but not soupy.
Polenta Party Menu
Because it's midwinter, we wanted a menu filled with seasonal flavors. And, though the pesto couldn't be more authentic, we're not the most traditional cooks so we took some liberty with the recipes and California-fied the menu. Meg brought a light twist on a Spritz cocktail and Kate brought shredded barbacoa as the braised meat because she's always representing with the Mexican flavors. Here are all the recipes for the menu:
Apple Basil and Prosecco Spritzer Cocktail | This Mess Is Ours
Basic Creamy Polenta (We made 4x this recipe for our party, FYI) | Salt & Wind
Braised Chickpeas with Porcini and Tuscan Kale | This Mess Is Ours
Beer-Braised Beef Barbacoa | ¡Hola! JALAPEÑO
Creamy Basil Pesto | Salt & Wind
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes | Salt & Wind
Red Pepper Romesco Sauce | Salt & Wind
Blood Orange Tart with Vanilla Mascarpone | ¡Hola! JALAPEÑO
How To Make A Mini Floral And Herb Wreath
As you probably remember from our Day Of The Dead Party, Meredith made some serious gorgeous florals so we asked for her to help out this time too. She and Meg came up with these stunning (yet super simple) DIY Mini Floral and Herb Wreaths. And, as Meredith said, so long as you use herbs from the grocery store (ie not from the flower market), your guests can pick off the herbs and add them to their dish as they please!
The Ideal Party Tabletop And Decor
One of the most fun parts of throwing these parties is that we all bring tableware and every time we find new gems. Here are a few we loved this go round:
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More on Salt & Wind
- 10 Things We Love About The Salt & Wind Italy Trip
- Cook These Classic Italian Recipes When Dreaming Of Italy
- Toast Italy With Our 10 Favorite Aperitivo Cocktails
Photos by Salt & Wind and This Mess Is Ours