Creamy polenta with truffles and parmigiano – the delights of Istria

We are holidaying in the heart of Istria, in the tiny hilltop town of Motovun (Montona in Italian). We drove in from staying with family in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the northeast of Italy. The house we are staying in has views over the valley and a delightful terrace. I can’t think of a more peaceful place to enjoy the cultural, historical, architectural and gourmet delights that inland Istria has to offer.

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The area is known for its wines (the Malvasia is amazing), its grappa (made from grapes), the local Istrian prosciutto, olive oil and truffles. Around the towns, many houses seem to have small plots of land with grape vines, olives trees, fruit trees, tomatoes – and they don’t seem to be for large scale production, but rather for personal use or to sell on a small scale.

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We are here in September and it just happens to be the start of truffle season. This means I have been eating truffles for every meal (including breakfast – they are wonderful with eggs!). There are truffle (and wine and grappa) tastings all over town. This is my kind of heaven.

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Truffles are such bizarre looking things. Before coming to Istria, my zio Mario was telling me stories about before World War II (when Istria was Italian and he lived there), how they used to call truffles, “patate de porchi” (meaning “potatoes of pigs), as pigs would find them in the ground and eat them. The prosciutto made from these truffle eating pigs tasted amazing!! Given the cost of truffles, I am sure that they don’t feed them to the pigs any more, no matter how amazing their prosciutto might be. The area is just full of truffles – apparently a 1.3 kg truffle was found near Buie (a town that we visited yesterday – we had lunch there – home made tagliatelle with truffles – of course!).

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Last night’s dinner was polenta with truffles and Grana Padano (a type of parmigiano). It was so delicious – the polenta was creamy and soft; the flakes of fresh black truffle added a distinctive complex earthy taste and the large parmigiano crisp wedged in the soft polenta gave the dish texture and a salty contrasting taste. Although I have not made the dish at home, I can’t wait to try it. When I do, I will make sure I accompany it with a glass of chilled Malvasia and remember this wonderful holiday in Istria.

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Polenta with truffles and Grana Padano
serves two
100g yellow polenta
500ml water at a rolling boil
25g unsalted butter
Salt to taste
200g Grana Padano (or other good quality Parmesan cheese), grated
15-20g fresh truffle, thinly sliced (or truffle in a jar or truffle sauce or even truffle oil)
Extra grated Grana Padano to serve
Cracked black pepper to taste

Make the Parmesan crisp first – place half the grated cheese evenly in a small non stick pan on low heat until it melts. The base of the pan should be evenly covered. Place under a medium grill for about a minute, watching that it does not burn. Remove from the pan and place on a wooden chopping board to cool and harden. Repeat with the remaining cheese. Set both hardened Parmesan rounds aside.

To make the polenta, the method is here (takes about 30 minutes). Make sure it is creamy and soft for this dish.

Once ready, place the polenta on serving dishes, arrange the Parmesan round and shave on truffles (or scatter on truffle sauce or drizzle on truffle oil).

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