A traditional Italian dinner

Frank Cianci

For Italians, it’s all about love: love of family, love of food, love of wine, love of music. Family dinners, especially Sunday dinner at nonna’s (grandma’s), allowed us to express all those loves at once. Memories of those family dinners evoke strong emotions. One such dinner was polenta sulla spianatoia (polenta on the board). Imagine nonno (grandpa) stirring the pot of simmering cornmeal for what seemed like an eternity and nonna (grandma) frying sausage and cooking mushrooms to add to the marinara (tomato sauce). Loaves of fresh Italian bread would be unloaded from the forno (oven). The rest of us would play bocce. The adults would be drinking homemade vino (wine).

A long spianatoia (board) would be placed on the family table. When the food was ready, we would all gather around and watch as nonno poured the hot polenta along the length of the board. Nonna would pour her sauce of tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, sausage and mushrooms over the polenta. Each of us would carve out our portions, sprinkle grated parmigiano Reggiano on top and eat our feast right from the board. Can’t you just imagine the music from The Godfather playing in the background?

Chef Aubrey Daniels and Jeremy Trietsch, of the Wildhorse Grill, agreed to re-create that feast. On August 8, the Friends of Italy (Robson Denton’s Italian club) sponsored a polenta dinner (a “sagra di polenta”) at the Grill. Chef Aubrey flexed his culinary chops and prepared a classic polenta dinner for us, according to an ancient family recipe.

The party started with a little impromptu bocce on the patio, then moved to the Grill lounge. One table was set with loaves of freshly-baked Italian country bread. Plates of olive oil and garlic, olive oil with crushed red pepper flakes and basil pesto were arranged around the bread. Guests could cut, or rip, themselves pieces of the bread. Another table had several Italian wines.

The dinner tables had polenta boards (the spianatoie) lined on them. Antipasti of marinated artichoke hearts, cured Italian olives, parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, Asiago cheese, baby portabella mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella, soppressata (cured pork sausage), olive oil and arugula, sat in the center of each table. When the polenta was ready, we watched as Chef poured it onto the boards. The tomato sauce with sausage and mushrooms was ladled onto the polenta. Italian music played. Each person scooped out their own portion of the polenta onto plates. Wine glasses were filled and drained repeatedly. Some sang along with the music.

At the end of the night, the Italians and honorary Italians were happy, satisfied and in love.