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Dad’s Polenta and Bagnetto

April 6, 2013

Dad’s Polenta with Bagnetto

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

On April 4, 1997, when I was (as the song title and lyrics say) “Back Home Again in Indiana” for my spring break from teaching, I finally asked my dad for two of my favorite recipes of his—polenta and bagnetto. In the living room of our Blanford home, I electronically brailled the two recipes as my dad detailed the recipes that have been such a part of our family traditions. While I carefully took the notes for the recipes, I had no idea that in eight short months we would be saying a final goodbye to one of the world’s best fathers.

Frequently, for Sunday dinner, the polenta was the centerpiece of our table. My dad was always the one who made the polenta. Of course, I remember his standing tall by the stove and stirring the cornmeal mixture in the heavy saucepan. One of us placed in the middle of our table a rectangular board and covered it with a linen cloth, the ends of which were tucked under the board. Then, my dad would sprinkle some dry cornmeal onto the linen cloth. When the polenta was of perfect consistency, my dad would drop the polenta onto the cloth. Slowly, the polenta oozed near the end of the cloth-covered board—a beautiful and delicious centerpiece. How my dad had a knack for making the perfect polenta!

Although a number of toppings can be served with polenta, my favorite has always been “bagnet.” (My family always pronounced “bagnetto” without the last syllable.) This recipe is not a red sauce; but what some people refer to as a “pink sauce” or, perhaps more aptly, a “rose sauce.” The bagnetto is served onto the individual portion of polenta on one’s plate.


1. Soak one and three-fourths cups cornmeal in water for 20-25 minutes.
2. In a heavy saucepan, put one-half inch of water and one teaspoon of salt.
3. Bring salted water to boil, and add cornmeal mixture.
4. Lower heat, and stir frequently over a ten-minute period. (Add cold water, if necessary, to avoid stiff polenta.)
5. Polenta is done when it pulls away from the sides of the saucepan.
6. Carefully, dump polenta onto cloth-covered board, which earlier has been dusted with dry cornmeal.

Bagnetto—a Delicious Topping for Polenta

1. In a large skillet, melt 1-1/2 to two tablespoons butter.
2. Add 15-ounce can of plain, crushed (peeled) tomatoes.
3. Stir and crush tomatoes while cooking the mixture well.
4. Add four well-beaten eggs to tomato mixture.
5. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Lower heat; and stir until eggs are cooked, but soft.
7. Bagnetto should be placed in a serving bowl so that the bagnetto can be spooned over individual servings of polenta.

In October of 1997, during a fall break, my sister and my younger nephew (from Colorado) and I (from Wisconsin) were home again to visit my parents. With only a little help from my sister and me, my 84-year-old father prepared the polenta and all the trimmings for us one last time. Many people may say that a dinner at a five-star restaurant was his or her most memorable meal; however, I can assuredly tell you that my most memorable and blessed meal was that last dinner of polenta and bagnetto—prepared so expertly and lovingly by my dad.

Along with these two recipes comes the advice to avoid procrastination about writing down those special family recipes of your own family to share with younger family members, friends, and future generations. Family trees, like family traditions, do grow in our family’s kitchens.

Mangia! Mangia!

Alice Jane-Marie Massa
April 4, 2013, Thursday


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  1. Mmmm–delicious memories! Do you have another recipe that calls for the addition of meat and/or vegetables? Thanks for another great family recipe, Alice! Hugs, Carole

  2. Mary Fornero permalink

    Fran told me about the polenta posting. I think it brings back many memories for all of us. Joe and Josephine had polenta every Sunday, and I mean every Sunday – even in the heat of August. Joe was in charge of the polenta and followed the same routine as your Dad. Mom was in charge of polenta at our house and she often made bagnet. We also loved it with cheese and Joe’s sausage. Enjoy your writing!

  3. Oh, I remember that October day and that delicious polenta well, Alice. Thinking of our dad standing at the window waving good-bye to the three of us as we left our family home still brings tears to my eyes.
    Love, Mary

  4. Polenta has always been a favorite comfort food for me and your piece brought it all back for me You can imagine my dismay when I first made it for Jack and he proclaimed it “Mush!” I had to forgive his unknowing misunderstanding!

    Ours was always served with some stewed wild game; usually rabbit or squirrel. I can still see my Aunt Cynthia standing at the stove, stirring and stirring with an old wooden spoon, that was used for nothing but polenta. Of course there was also that pan that needed to be cleaned afterward!

    Mary, I also remember those days of leaving….the tears were always flowing .

  5. I have never know what Polenta is and never even heard of Bagnetto at all. This was interesting to me, and educational as well. It is always so nice to have a food that takes us back to another time in our ilfe, and I very much enjoyed your memroies today. Thanks, Alice.

    • Lynda–Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a nice comment. Of course, a retired teacher likes to hear that her post was also educational. Take care–Alice

      • Well, I just figured out how to find the comments and replies to posts – I know, I am such a slow learner. Anyway, I thought of you as I picked up some frozen dinners this week. One was Polents with Swiss Chard, made by Amy’s of California – who makes my favorite vegetarian foods. It was DELiCIOUS and I would not have bought it if I had not read your article first.

      • Lynda–Thanks for sharing your shopping find. I am glad to hear you enjoyed some polenta. Mangia! Mangia! Take care–Alice

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