Polenta with a backbeat

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Machneyuda, the restaurant, sits outside Mahane Yehuda, the vibrant food market, in Jerusalem. It's small and loud and hip. My niece, an actual DJ at an actual college radio station, claims its pounding backbeat matches her iPod playlist. That hip.

The kitchen is open. It's packed with muscular chefs who, mid-dish, stop cooking and start drumming on the copper cookware. Hip.

And crazy delicious. Not that I can call up every dish we downed. Most of them linger in the haze that descended after I tasted the polenta.

Really, polenta — the yellow mattress that usually cushions the spareribs or comforts the ragout. Polenta, ever warm. But hardly hot.

This polenta was hot. It crouched in a spring-top jar packed with garlic-dizzy mushrooms and lemon-crisp asparagus. I spent most of the evening wondering how those burly cooks turned cornmeal compelling.

The answer is swag. Standard polenta is cornmeal cooked in water. This was cornmeal luxuriating in cream, milk, butter, Parmesan and truffle oil. Worth stopping, midbite, to drum its praise.

Creamy polenta

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Serves: 4–6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

2 cups milk

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons fine yellow cornmeal (aka polenta)

Parmesan cheese

White truffle oil

Whisk:

In a large saucepan, bring milk, cream, butter and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle in cornmeal, whisking constantly. Wear mitts — cornmeal spatters fiercely!

Thicken:

Cook, whisking frequently, until thick and fluffy, about 15 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan.

Serve:

Turn out into a serving dish (or a spring-top glass jar). Cast on a few curls of shaved Parmesan. Drizzle with truffle oil. Excellent with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.

Provenance:

Inspired by Machneyuda Restaurant, Jerusalem

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

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