True Grit

When I was growing up I envied Goldilocks. She broke into houses owned by bears and ate porridge. She was my fairytale badass. In the 70’s in Missouri, no one called oatmeal or grits porridge, so for me, that word was just as mystical as a unicorn or an imp-like creature spinning gold out of straw. It seemed exotic and I wanted some!

I was planning a party with a friend a few months ago and we were intent on dong a polenta “slab” with a little sundae bar of toppings. It was going to be communal, interactive, and catered to the tastes of each of our guests since they could make up their own dish. Sadly, we got vetoed by her husband. He feared it would make a mess and sour/dampen the party.  I tucked the idea away and knew I would use it for my own entertaining or at the very least a cool photo shoot.


I was introduced to polenta once I moved to New York City and loved the elegance of a peasant food being dressed up and treated like a superstar on menus. I had found my Goldilocks porridge! Spending a great deal of time in Italy secured my love affair with this thick and comforting maize-based porridge, similar to American grits.

I love when words have duel meanings. Wiki says “The word grits referring to a food, should not be confused with “grit,” which can mean either “courage” or “a small particle, like fine sand.” Um, why NOT call grits courage? Having true grit means you are always moving forward against opposition, you possess strength and resolve when presented with problems. You have moxie. You have pluck.

Sign. Me. Up.

This weekend I invited some of my nears and dears over for a pot of courage and an evening of music. I so badly wanted to pour out my polenta into a slab, but I have to agree with my friend’s husband; it seemed like a mess just waiting to be made with such a big group. So I settled for the photo shoot opportunity and I’m so happy to share it with you all here. It is an inexpensive menu item that can be stretched to serve a large number of guests. Save a place at the table for Goldilocks!

Creamy Polenta Slab

Adapted from Michael Chiarello

Serves 20+

  • 10 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 cups heavy cream
  • salt
  • 4 cups fine-ground corn grits or polenta (not instant)
  • 1 cups shredded imported Asiago cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Cracked red pepper

Line a heatproof table with butcher paper*. In a very large pot, combine the water with the heavy cream, season with salt and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Cook the polenta over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, creamy and no longer gritty, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cheeses and season with salt and pepper. Immediately pour the polenta onto the butcher paper and invite guests to grab spoons and forks, add toppings** and dive in. Pass additional Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

 * you can also leave it in the pot and ladle into bowls

 ** ideas for toppings: basil pesto, marinara sauce, sautéed mushrooms an kale, roasted tomatoes, grilled skirt steak, buttered peas

 Photos by Cheryl Stockton of Stockshot Studio