The pairing of creamy polenta with a ragout of earthy wild mushrooms has to be one of the glories of northern Italian cooking. Mid-autumn when a profusion of wild mushrooms begin to appear in the Rialto market, is the best time to prepare this dish in Venice. "Now you have all these mushrooms all the time in America," Francesco says. So he's happy to be able to prepare polenta with wild (or exotic) mushrooms any time.
Americans think of squid and its ink as the essential ingredients to make the black sauce that is served in Venice with polenta, risotto, or pasta. But Francesco points out that the sea creature with the most ink is the cuttlefish, which is a little larger than squid. Many fish markets sell cleaned squid; some sell cuttlefish. If cuttlefish is not available squid can be substituted. Lately, some specialty food stores have started carrying little packets of cuttlefish ink to use for making these recipes. "I don't entirely trust them," Francesco says. "I'm not sure what they have put in those packets."
"In different regions of the North, we have different kinds of polenta," Francesco explains. "In Bergamo they make it very firm. In Venice it's often white, madewith white cornmeal, whichi s more refined but takes longer to cook. Polenta is really food for the poor. In poor families with lots of children you would be served a big polenta for dinner with one sausage sitting in the middle." Francesco also says that most people make polenta starting with boiling water. You can also start it in cold water, which is easier,"but you have to bring it to a boil very fast." he says. Use a little less water if the polenta is meant to be firmer so it can be spread ina pan, allowed to cool, then cut in rectangles to grill or saute.