It often happens that a nation of people is identified as a distinct culture by their traditional food. Such is polenta to the Northern Italians. Sometime in the 15th - 16th centuries, a new crop called maize arrived from the New World. It was a perfect match for the farms in Northern Italy bringing them profit and a very tasty, filling food - cornmeal polenta. So began Italy's love affair with this versatile food.
Traditionally a slow-cooked dish, polenta can be served with nearly anything, meat or seafood. Served with butter and cheese, soft polenta can replace bread or pasta in a meal. In cake form, it can be layered with a sweet or savoury filling and baked. It can be grilled and topped with mushroom and tomatoes, like a bruschetta. Leftover polenta can be shaped into balls, patties or sticks and fried until golden brown and crispy for a delicious crostini di polenta treat. Today, this gluten-free food has become a premium product featured on the menu in many high-end restaurants.