This recipe for Polenta with Ricotta, Pancetta and Basil is super easy and so flavorful. I mean it has pancetta in it, what’s not to like!
Pancetta, pronounced pan-chet-a, is basically an Italian version of American bacon with a few exceptions. While American bacon is cured and smoked, pancetta is cured but unsmoked. It’s made of pork belly too, and can be found salted and seasoned with black pepper usually, and sometimes with other spices. It is then dried for several months. Both need to be cooked to be eaten.
I find a warm bowl of fresh polenta such a great comfort food go-to, and in this recipe fresh ricotta and parmesan cheeses are incorporated into the cooked cornmeal. The added flavor comes from the fresh, chopped basil and browned pancetta. How could this NOT be good? Right?
Pancetta can be found in two ways, rolled and called “arrotolata” and is typical of northern Italy and a flat version called “stesa” which is usually found in central and southern Italy. Either is amazing in flavor and great for cooking. It adds that extra salty goodness to the meal and I keep the rendered fat instead of using olive oil for sautéing, too.
Cooking these low and slow to render the fat and get the edges all caramelized and crunchy. I simply add to a cold cast iron skillet or casserole pan and turn the heat to medium-high and once they start to sizzle, turn it to low and slowly cook until browned and delectable.
After the pancetta has rendered down and browned I remove it and set it on a plate with a paper towel. Next, I deglaze the pan with a little water to pick up all the lovely browned bits and pepper from the pancetta and pour this flavor weapon into the boiling water to flavor the polenta as it cooks along with the butter. This sometimes can stick, so keep it low and slow for 25 minutes, stirring often.
As the polenta is cooking prep your other ingredients.
Once the polenta has cooked, remove it from the heat and with a whisk, incorporate the ricotta, parmesan cheese and basil until it is smooth. If it’s a little too thick, add some milk to get a creamy consistency. Next, add the pancetta and stir to mix the pieces in.
Serve this warm and top with more crumbled, browned pancetta with a good sprinkle of more parmesan cheese.
This stuff is wonderful as a side dish and I grilled some fresh Mona Lisa House Sausages. These are one of my favorites sausages and you can read all about Mona Lisa – Old School Italian Deli in my Tips & Tricks section. You will get lost in time and have fun checking out all the imported goodies throughout the store.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup medium-grain yellow polenta
- 2 tbsp rendered pancetta pan drippings
- 2 tbsp butter
- 15 oz whole milk Ricotta cheese
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup chopped basil
- kosher salt
- Chop the pancetta into small dice and add to a cold cast iron skillet or stock pot and turn the heat to medium-high and once they start to sizzle, turn it to low and slowly render the fat and cook until browned and delectable. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the rendered pancetta fat.
- Deglaze the pan with a little water. Add this to the 4 cups total water in a stock pot.
- Heat water seasoned with the pancetta drippings to a boil over high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and quickly whisk in the polenta until fully incorporated.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and allow the polenta to cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and finish by whisking in the ricotta and parmesan cheeses, this should become smooth. If it is too thick add a little milk.
- Add the browned pancetta and chopped basil. Season to taste, sprinkle fresh parmesan cheese on top and serve.