[Sca-cooks] Polenta

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Tue Nov 28 15:49:23 PST 2006

On Nov 28, 2006, at 5:06 PM, Suey wrote:

>     Now this leads to confusion with couscous which prior to the  
> 13th C
> was referred to as harira (the Jewish version of gachas) or gachas  
> (with
> couscous grains), which is confusing as harira today is a well spiced
> soup consisting of finely mashed wheat. In the Middle Ages it was  
> boiled
> wheat or breadcrumbs to which meat and mutton grease were added.

By any chance is that the medieval Arabic version of Harissa, which  
is different from the modern harissa, which is generally a spicy  
pepper sauce commonly used with couscous? If so, we seem to have come  
full circle...

>     Now we have the problem of couscous being referred to as  
> polenta in
> the Middle Ages. This fact is that if it is not properly dried before
> added to soup the couscous melts and becomes a sort of  polenta. Until
> the 14th and 15th centuries couscous did not evolve into what the dish
> is today. This may make it sound like couscous was not steamed  
> prior to
> that time. I do not know.

I'm not sure if the above paragraph really supports the point it  
seems designed to make. Yes, I'd agree that if not properly dried and  
dropped into boiling liquid, couscous (like pasta and a number of  
other products) can disintegrate. The question is, were they treated  
that way. If so, what would be the point of preparing them in that  
way? Why not just boil grain or meal?

>     Marie stated on 27 November that, "Couscous is a particular  
> form of
> pasta and not a
> grain at all...."

As I say, I vaguely recall both a recipe for couscous as a bunch  
simple pasta-like balls, and I could swear I've also seen one that  
involved coarsely-cracked grains.

> An odd note here is that Charles Perry says couscous is
> not like pasta as it is held together by 'weaker proteins' as in  
> grains
> not gluten.

Clearly, the recipes seem to suggest that there's a sort of molecular  
design common to what we look at and call pasta that is different  
from, say, couscous and Roman tracta. There's a structural strength  
to pasta that those others seem to lack, which is why shapes and  
sizes are far more limited in the non-pasta products. There seems to  
be some agreement that both fine milling processes and hard wheat  
make this possible for pasta, where the other grain preparations  
don't take advantage of those characteristics.

> He goes on to underline Mark's statement that couscous can
> be made with any grain and mentions bran, barley, maize, ground acorns
> and millet.

I have not seen this claim, but am not prepared to argue it. I can  
only say I _have_ seen the same claim made about polenta, and am  
reasonably sure it is true. Is there any chance at all that either  
you or Mark/Stefan have confused couscous with polenta? It wouldn't  
be the first time logic has gotten skewed by a simple error...


"S'ils n'ont pas de pain, vous fait-on dire, qu'ils  mangent de la  
brioche!" / "If there's no bread to be had, one has to say, let them  
eat cake!"
     -- attributed to an unnamed noblewoman by Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  
"Confessions", 1782

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?"
     -- Susan Sheybani, assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry  
Holt, 07/29/04

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