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Stop the Clock! With Polenta and Truffles

Compared to brown and beige grains, the golden grains of corn have many of the same nutrients. A rich reserve of insoluble fiber, whole grain corn provides bulk, and speeds the passage of food through the digestive tract, promoting regularity and potentially reducing the risk of colon cancer. Zeaxanthins are an antiaging phytochemical that gives corn its amber complexion. Zeaxanthin has been studied for its role in boosting the immune system, as well as fighting cancer and macular degeneration. Corn also contains proteins that appear to suppress cancer growth.

Polenta and cornmeal are two different versions of dried ground corn. They’re used interchangeably in many recipes. The real difference between the two is the size of the grind, and subsequently the price. Cornmeal can be ground finely, medium or course. Cornbread and muffins often call for a fine grind, which is similar to the texture of flour. Polenta requires a medium or coarse grind.

Stone-ground cornmeal is available in most health food stores. Because the germ has not been removed, it has a vastly superior nutrient profile compared to ordinary cornmeal. The preservation of the germ increases the fat content, thus decreasing the shelf life. It should be refrigerated. The dish called polenta refers to the grain as well as to its Italian-style preparation. In it, the coarse ground corn meal is cooked in water or broth and whisked continuously to prevent lumps from forming. The mixture is simmered over low heat until it is creamy and thick. Most preparations are fairly simple and incorporate additions such as butter or cheese.

Grits on the other hand, are made from ground dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the hull of the corn is removed by an alkali, such as slaked lime or lye. Though this processing leaves them less nutritious, they are often prepared in a manner similar to cooking polenta. This month’s Stop the Clock! recipe features not only the delicious flavors (and health benefits!) of stone ground corn; it also includes the seasonal delicacy of truffles, specifically Burgundy truffles (though black or white could be substituted). Burgundy truffles are available from October through November. Unlike the white and black, which are served uncooked to lavishly flavor and garnish a dish, Burgundy truffles are milder and must be used in cooking to get the most flavor.

Burgundy truffles come from the Italian regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and Northern Umbria. They should be grated or thinly sliced and briefly cooked or just warmed, to get the most flavor from them. Like white and black truffles, a one-ounce Burgundy truffle has approximately 80 calories. It contains calcium, iron, and a small amount of sodium. There hasn’t been enough research yet to identify numerous phytochemicals in truffles. There have been preliminary studies indicating that some truffles have antimicrobial properties meaning they may kill disease-causing bacteria.

Polenta with Burgundy Truffles
4 servings – about ¾ cup each
This versatile whole grain dish is quick and easy and can be served as a side dish with fish or chicken, or a plate of roasted vegetables. Cooking the polenta in milk gives it an extra boost of calcium and creaminess.
Image of Polenta with Burgundy Truffles
1 cup 1% milk
1 cup fat free reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)*
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 oz. Melissa’s Burgundy Truffle, thinly sliced

8 Italian parsley leaves

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat broth and milk over medium heat. When mixture is just ready to boil, whisk in the polenta. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a low boil. Simmer until polenta is thick, soft, and creamy, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Stir in cheese. Gently fold in truffles. Divide between four serving bowls. Garnish with Italian parsley leaves.
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