Recipe of the Month

(Cheese-Filled Polenta Balls)

These cornmeal balls originated in the town of Clauzetto, located in the mountains north of Pordenone. Cooks typically use a salted cheese like the local Asìno, which comes in two varieties: “classico” (standard semi-soft) and “morbido” (very soft, somewhat like cream cheese). According to local tradition, when a young man wanted to propose marriage, he would present an offering of balote to the potential bride’s family; if the balote were immediately placed on the fogolâr to roast, it was understood that he had the family’s approval.

Since Asìno cheese is difficult to find outside this region, I have found that a combination of cream cheese and ricotta salata captures both the flavor and texture needed for this dish. As an alternative, you can substitute eight ounces of Montasio fresco, cut into twelve cubes. Balote are often served with sautéed mushrooms.

4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces ricotta salata, grated (about 1-1/4 cups)
• • •
4 cups water
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and ricotta salata. Divide the mixture into twelve equal parts, rolling each into a small ball. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Polenta:
Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Stir in the cornmeal and salt. When the water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low; cook and stir until soft, about 25 minutes. Pour immediately into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish; spread evenly. Let cool for 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle.

To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice the polenta into twelve equal portions. Scoop out a portion of polenta and roll into a rough ball. Flatten slightly, place one cheese ball in the center, and smooth the polenta over to enclose the cheese. (The polenta will be very sticky, so work gently.) Place the finished polenta balls in a greased baking dish. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes.

Serves 4.