What’s the difference between Polenta & Grits?

grits charleston
Charleston Stone ground Grits at Kitchen 208 with roasted okra


Many folks ask us to define the differences between grits and polenta. As we noted, most grits, in the American South, are traditionally made from dent corn. In Italy, most polenta is made from flint corn. Italians began to cultivate flints from the Caribbean around 1500 and developed a then new European foodway, polenta di mais, or cornmeal mush.

When milled and cooked to similar forms, flint holds its particle texture longer than dent. Hence the famous beading texture and palate “grip” of properly made polenta. Flints also have different basic flavor profiles when compared in similar cookery to dents. Flints possess more mineral and floral notes, dents more “corn” flavor upfront, followed by supporting floral and mineral notes.

This contrast begets a broader discussion of polenta, grits, cornmeal, and mush. Are they just different forms of the same basic food idea? Yes and no, depending upon whom you ask. According to many food historians and the USDA, all forms of milled dry corn are some iteration of cornmeal, and all foods cooked from any of these forms are an iteration of mush.

Polenta, according to historians and the USDA, can be made from any corn and milled to any state using any milling equipment and technique from coarse “grits-like” texture to fine flour. But all of us at Anson Mills know something about 17th and 18th century European reduction milling techniques—and how that changes the game. At its introduction to Italian farming, polenta di mais was regarded as animal feed and milled in any fashion. Yes, the original forms of cooked polenta were no more than congealed porridge. But a century later, the reduction milling techniques used by Italians to make polenta di mais—when resources were available—determined polenta’s unique characteristics. In this process, corn was milled slowly to large pieces, then those large particles were passed though the mill again to make them smaller, and again to make them smaller still, until the desired uniform particle size was achieved. Reduction milling yields grist of extremely uniform particles for even cooking. And because reduction milling produces less milling heat, the flavor and texture in hard flint corn is preserved.

At the hand of Italian artisans and their quest for precision, polenta di mais evolved from multiple-pass reduction milling. American cornmeal and grits, in contrast, evolved as a contest to mill corn easily and get it into the pot with utmost speed. Nearly all corn milling in pre-industrial America was single pass, yielding grist with a wide range of particle sizes. American millers were derided in Europe for being impatient “single pass” technicians. Ultimately, when one comparespolenta di mais to grits, cornmeal, or corn flour, it is reduction milling that sets polenta apart visually, texturally, and even in terms of flavor. Predominantly made from otto file, or eight-row flint over the last few centuries, polenta di mais in Italy (and at Anson Mills) has a different flavor profile, a different finished mouthfeel, and a different textural makeup than mush made from Southern heirloom dent, coarse cornmeal, or grits. Simply, we grow Italian heirloom corns and mill them with 17th and 18th century European artisan techniques to achieve the various heritage forms of polenta di mais.

So if you were wondering whether at Anson Mills polenta, grits, cornmeal, or corn flour are all the same thing, the answer is an emphatic NO. Elsewhere, with the exception of the best farms and mills in Italy, all bets are off.




click here for more info and to buy heirloom grits, polenta and other corn products


Fruits and Vegetables in season now!

bietola di taglio
beet greens
bietole beet greens
beet greens
fave beans
fave beans
fresh peas
fresh zucchini flowers
frie zucchini flowers
fried zucchini flowers
fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy

Food tastes so much better when it is fresh! And it’s healthier!

In order to get fresh it must be in season!  I’ve noticed in the Usa we can find just about anything in our supermarkets but if it’s not in season it’s already old already!   This is because we transport our produce mostly from California and Florida to everywhere.  These are what are in season and popular to eat in Italy now.  They eat seasonally so it doesn’t have to travel very far.  Most people shop at open markets every day to buy fresh and get the best price.  I can’t find Zucchini flowers, citron or fresh peas yet in Chattanooga.

Vegetables in season now in Italy:

Asparagus, beet greens, carrots, dandelion greens, green onions, pearl onions, fave beans, zucchini flowers, new potatoes, peas, radishes, zucchini

Fruit in season now in Italy:

Citron, cherries, bananas, strawberries


Produce in season now in Chattanooga, Tennessee :

Arugula, Kale, radishes, lettuce, spinach, asparagus, strawberries, mushrooms, collard greens, mustard greens, head lettuce, romaine lettuce

Which extra virgin Olive oil to buy? Read this and find out!


The real deal:
California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini. Kirkland Organic, Lucero (Ascolano), McEvoy Ranch Organic are also noted by Eat Grown Local.

The brands that failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards, according to a UC Davis 2012 study: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian. Eat Grown Local also reports: Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway in this list; the data may be from the earlier 2010 study when more brands were evaluated.

We lived in the largest olive oil region in Italy for a year and learned much about the corruption in the industry.  Read the book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller if you want to know more.

Now that we live in the States I buy Kirkland’s Italian organic extra virgin olive oil from Costco- it’s 13 dollars for a 2 liter bottle.  I transfer it to glass as soon as I get home and keep it away from light to protect it.

This paper on EVOO is from my friend and mentor Diane Seed who has been in Rome for 40+ years and one of the first to have a cooking school there.  She was also head of the extra virgin olive oil association for some years.

Italian cooking with olive oil- by Diane Seed

Italy as a nation consumes more olive oil than any other country, and it would be difficult to imagine Italian cooking without this vital ingredient.  Although some northern Italian regions traditionally use butter in their cooking, they still rely on olive oil to give the final “tocca” to several dishes, and olive oil is gradually replacing butter in many northern homes and restaurants.  In the same way, in the past, when most country families kept a pig, lard was used for many rustic dishes, but as Italy moved into the 20th century, olive oil replaced lard so completely that many Italians

Italian cooking with olive oil- by Diane Seed

Italy as a nation consumes more olive oil than any other country, and it would be difficult to imagine Italian cooking without this vital ingredient.  Although some northern Italian regions traditionally use butter in their cooking, they still rely on olive oil to give the final “tocca” to several dishes, and olive oil is gradually replacing butter in many northern homes and restaurants.  In the same way, in the past, when most country families kept a pig, lard was used for many rustic dishes, but as Italy moved into the 20th century, olive oil replaced lard so completely that many Italians believed it was the original, traditional cooking fat. In the south olive oil has always ruled the kitchen and many families have survived, and at the same time dined splendidly on bread and home grown vegetables anointed with lucent olive oil, or a sumptuous plate of pasta, dressed simply with “aglio, olio e peperoncino”.

Olive oil is used in baking, preserving, and marinading as well as frying and deep frying. It is used to dress salads, cooked vegetables, fish and meat, and to add a crowning touch to soups and cooked purées. Most pasta sauces would be nothing without olive oil, but it is a great mistake and false economy to use the cheapest olive oil to be found. Every olive oil has its own individual taste and an oil that will give a gentle benison to a fish dish might not contribute much to a hearty bean soup. In Italy it is usual to have several bottles of olive oil in the larder, and they are chosen with as much care as the bottles in the wine racks. For general cooking a modest extra virgin olive oil will do the job, but a more special oil is kept for drizzling over a finished dish, or anointing fish and vegetables, and the better the oil the better the taste. Even in Italy the olive oil used is often most expensive ingredient in the recipe.

Once you have invested in your extra virgin olive oil us generously, since olive oil should be consumed within 12 to 18 months of production, depending on the variety of olive oil, and it should be stored in a cool, dark place to avoid deterioration.

“olive oil” has been chemically refined and although it is healthier than other cooking fats, it has little to offer as far as taste goes, and it does not possess the same anti-oxidants as extra virgin olive oil. However it is perfectly adequate as an economic fat for deep frying. In Italy, where oil is less expensive, I deep fry in a commercially- blended extra virgin olive oil.   I do not deep fry in estate bottled extra virgin olive oil because I feel it would be a waste and extravagance. In Italy every region, town, village and family firmly believe that their olive oil is the best. So experiment with the different olive oil you find, so that you gradually develop your own olive oil palate. You can have great fun deciding with whom you agree. 

Extra virgin olive oil vs. virgin olive oil vs. olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil by law must contain less than 1% acidity. It is obtained from fruit of the olive tree by mechanical and physical methods under controlled temperature conditions which preserve the fruity flavor, color and natural properties of the oil.

“Estate bottled” oils come from a specific geographical area and the name of the producer is usually stated. Often the particular variety of olive is named. Thes oils are usually the top of the range and the flavor may change from year to year according to the weather conditions. In these oils it is possible to see how soils, climate, and variety of olive produce a wide range of flavors.   Industrial blended Extra virgin olive oil has a consistent taste and texture. The oils used may come from many different countries but all the oil has less than 1% acidity. This oil is generally less expensive than the estate – bottled oil.

Virgin Olive oil

This is obtained in the same way as extra virgin olive oil but it has more than 1% and less than 3% acidity. It is usually less expensive than EVOO.

Olive Oil

This classification was previously known as “pure olive oil”. The free oleic acidity is below 1.5% but this result has been achieved by refining oils with a higher degree of acidity. It is suitable for deep frying. “extra light” olive oil belongs to this category. It does not exist in traditional Mediterranean cooking and it is only light in flavor, not in calories. It contains the same number of calories as other oils. The oil is suitable for deep frying sweet things.

Deep Frying

In Mediterranean   countries there is a long established tradition of deep frying. Humble ingredients are deep fried in olive oil to transform them into crisp , golden morsels of temptation. There is even an old proverb from Liguria that says: “fritta e’ buona persino una scarpa” even an old shoe tastes good when it’s fried.

When food is fried in olive oil 60% of the moisture content of the food has to evaporate before the olive oil begins to penetrate, while other fats penetrate more quickly. Heat the olive oil slowly until it reaches the desired temperature.

It is very important to control the temperature of the oil during frying. A moderate heat of 150 degrees celcius (300 F) should be used for dense, uncooked food such as chicken joints, large fish or raw vegetable like artichokes. This ensures that the food is cooked right through before turning to brown.

A higher heat of 170 C (338) should be used for already cooked food or light food dipped in batter or egg or bread crumbs. A very high heat of 356 should be used for very small portions of food or tiny fishes.

Olive oil begins to smoke at 220 C (420F) and the oil should be allowed to reach this heat.

Olive oil should be carefully filtered after each use, and according to experts it is safe to re-use 10 times before its nutritional properties are impaired. I prefer to use the oil only 3 times to get a better flavor.

The food to be fried should be slid gently into the oil, a few at a time to avoid cooling down the oil.

“If the oil needs to be topped up add the new oil when a batch is finished” .. then you can wait for the oil.

When the food is ready lift it out with a slotted spoon, place on kitchen paper

Which pasta should I buy? Read this and find out!


De Cecco and Del Verde are actual Abruzzesi dried pasta producers, and their US counterparts are true to the quality of the original Italian product. Barilla, on the other hand, is an entirely different (and lower-quality) product here in the States. I am personally offended by this total lack of respect for US dried pasta consumers, but that’s another story for anyone who is nearly as fanatical as I am about these kinds of things. Rustichella d’Abruzzo is good for certain cuts (I like their orecchiette), and not quite right for others. Their Gnocchi and Perle di Patate (mini gnocchi) are out of this world, if you can find them (at about $8 per lb.). You’ll never find Ronzoni or Rienzi in my pantry, though there was a time when that was all that was available (my grandmother continued to use them, out of habit, until the ’80s, when her daughters revolted). I am currently enjoying “thick spaghetti” and “pennette rigate” from Rummo, a Neapolitan brand that is newly-available here in the NY area. Another promising brand produced in that region is Gerardo di Nola, whose Bucatini I tried recently and really liked. I also made a dish using a Pugliese brand not too long ago that was very good, but I don’t recall which. My go-to classics are DeCecco Rigatoni and Spaghetti, but I will also take Del Verde for either of these, and also for pastine (small pastas, used in soups, etc.). Voiello brand pasta is excellent all around, if you can find it. It’s availability seems to come and go here in NY. I heard that Barilla bought it recently, which to me can only be a bad omen, if it is any indication of how their quality here in States might change. My #1 brand for nostalgia purposes is Gianni di Napoli, a pioneer import brand of high-quality pasta from Italy that my mother used for much of my childhood. It is still good, and a bargain due to its relative obscurity, though not easy to find.
I could go on and on, but I don’t want to scare anyone… I did not write this but I completely agree with her!

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This is what to look for on the box. It should be cut with a bronze dye cut not teflon to get that good rough porous texture that grabs the sauce and has depth and texture to the noodle

The Cipriani is awesome and beautiful to look at but it’s a high end import and so you will pay for it – from 7 – 10 dollars a box. You also only get 8 oz in a box rather than the usual pound. I love the pappardelle!