Sicily’s stuffed arancini have already made a name for themselves in world cuisine, so it’s high time that northern Italy gets a chance in the spotlight with balote. Imagine polenta wrapped around a center of gooey, melted cheese. Fruilian custom says that when a young man went to the home of a girl with the intention of asking her hand in marriage, he brought some of these balote as a gift to the family. If the balote were put on the hearth to warm up, it was a sign of approval for the engagement. In Clooney’s lakeside town of Laglio, there’s zola or taleggio-stuffed pulenta balota. A stone’s throw away in Brianza there’s el balott, and at Lake Garda on the eastern side where Veneto and Trentino meet, la balòta. Of course there also has to be a food festival and in August of each year at the Festa della Balote in Clauzetto (Pordenone), cheese-filled polenta balls are evidently rolling around on plates.
Cook up a batch of polenta until thick, stir in a handful of grated montasio or other semi-firm cheese, then wait a few minutes until it’s cool enough to handle. With damp hands, shape baseball-sized orbs, tucking a chunk of cheese in the middle. Place them on a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan (a thin film of olive oil helps) and heat until warmed through and lightly browned on the outside. Serve with cured meats and vegetables – it’s the most delicious thing to want to dig into on a cold, foggy day like this.