Varzi, Italy (Lombardia) — Who makes the best polenta? From what I read online, this event was supposed to be something of a polenta challenge, hence the word disfida. In truth it seemed more of an organized cook-off between participating associations and not some race to produce the fastest pot of hot porridge at the shot of a firing pistol. Five groups were situated about, three under a canopied tent and two outdoors. Each had their respective cooks congregrating around a cauldron of steaming polenta – one person stirring, one adding cornmeal. Everything smelled 10 times better as another set of cooks prepared the lamb ragu that would accompany the meal. Also on the menu were polenta with mushrooms and gorgonzola, ravioli and polenta, and polenta with no frills. Local wine, bread and water was all that was necessary to compliment the meal.
The polenta was completely different from the one we tasted at Monastero Bormida. It was grainier in texture rather than creamy smooth, and according to my husband it was more like polenta concia. We loved it all anyway, especially with that lamb ragu of chopped onions, carrots, tomatoes, and bits of tender artichokes. Just the sort of comforting meal to have settling in our bellies as we braved through a sudden snowstorm on the return home.