Dish Seven: Polenta Bread at Mama Palma’s, 23rd and Spruce. (cash only)
I was under the impression that polenta bread would be like the corn bread-pudding that my Daddo, my dad’s dad, makes. It is a box of cornbread mix, prepared, and mixed with a can of creamed corn, and when baked, becomes this crusty, gooey, chewy, savory-sweet indefinable creation. (If you also have Irish grandparents, you are already familiar with concoctions and questionable food items like this. Like Nana’s soda bread, which the dentist in the family encourages us to avoid, or the steak Daddo made and left in the oven for an hour “to keep it warm”.)
No, polenta bread is a glorious creation of the Italians, which means that it falls into neither the concoction nor the questionable category. I have this theory that The Powers That Be made the Irish and the Italians naturally compatible so that they would get married and the Irish would have a shot at having some good home cooking. Of course, it’s just a theory, but if you look at my family, my Italian aunts steal the show when it comes to dinnertime. (Homemade gnocchi… stuffed mushrooms… roast beef… baked ziti… mmmmm…)
So needless to say, when I discovered, halfway around the block from Mama Palma’s (after sneaking a peek inside the aromatic takeout box), that polenta bread was actually polenta spread thin on a crusty, blackened pizza crust, and sprinkled with corn and mouthwatering roasted peppers, I was confused and brought the box back to the front counter. Where the boy laughed at me for the third time that evening, as follows:
1. Jersey girl bursts in looking bewildered, and they immediately recognize me as the girl who ordered ahead, and laugh.
2. Jersey girl whips out the credit card. They laugh.
3. Jersey girl returns the world famous polenta bread, saying it’s not polenta bread. They laugh.
I suspiciously accept his explanation of the food product—it smells incredible, why not believe him, and he laughs again. “Good night, Lauren.” Oh, God, they already know me. Why can’t I go anywhere without getting in trouble?
Polenta bread should be eaten steaming hot, because the scent of rosemary and basil and oregano fill the air. The polenta is sweet and smooth, the corn is chewy and delicious, the roasted peppers are truly out of this world, rich, flavorful, and smoky, and the crust is chewy and crusty and brings me home.
I sometimes hesitate to have Italian food in Pennsylvania—nothing makes me homesick faster than sweet sauce and soft pasta—but I don’t have to worry anymore, since it looks like I’ve found a second home, and they’ve already welcomed me like family.