When you talk about most nations you have a couple of staples for foods. Most people think of Italy and think of pasta and pizza. If you were to ask most people of Northern Italy you will also hear the word polenta. Northern Italians subsisted on little more than polenta for centuries. In this way, polenta is truly an Italian national dish, and may have a history much more ancient than either pizza or pasta.
Polenta is known by some as Italians grits. It’s also considered to be a food linked with poverty and field workers. However in ancient times, what would later be called polenta started out as one of the earliest and simplest foods made from grain. Made from wild grains and later from primitive wheat, faro (a popular Italian grain), millet, spelt or chickpeas, the grain was mixed with water to form a paste that was then cooked on a hot stone. In this way, early polenta may have pre-dated leavened bread, since yeasts were often hard to come by and milling techniques were not yet refined.
In the Roman Times polenta was known as plumentum. Roman soldiers would eat in either as a porridge or a hard cake like substance like you would find it in most cases today. Back then the polenta was reserved for the peasants and was not very tasty. Polenta would eventually get better with the introduction of buck wheat to the area. This nutritive grain - known as grano saraceno is still popular in Tuscany for making polenta near and adds a distinctive flavor that was widely favored for centuries. Buckwheat polenta would eventually fall out of favor when a crop from the New World arrived in Italy sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries known as maize. The new crop was a perfect match for the farms of Northern Italy, where landowners could grow vast fields of corn for profit, while forcing the peasantry to subsist on cornmeal. This new form of polenta was abundant, but seriously lacking in...