Polenta is not only a food, it has a long story and it is a symbol of Italian peasant world.
Cristoforo Colombo brought it from “India” to Europe, and from then on it has saved generations from hunger. It has become so popular in Italy, that people from Northern Italy, especially from Veneto, are called polentoni (polenta eaters).
Pieter Bruegel the elder, Peasant wedding (1660)
Pietro Longhi, La polenta (1740)
Nowadays you can pay a lot of money to enjoy a nice polenta and stew in a fancy restaurant, but polenta is originally a poor and cheap food, typical of the peasant world. Nobles, aristocrats, bourgeois, in general wealthy people living in the city ate white bread, poor peasant polenta.
Polenta was normally served on a wooden tagliere (cutting board) in the middle of the table, or poured from the paiolo directly on the table, with some sort of dressing (tomato sauce, stew, cheese) in lucky times, and whole family shared it.
Sharing. A crucial concept in the peasant world, a place where the ideas of community and mutual help were vital.
My grandfather used to say “Quando è in casa è di tutti” (“When something is in the house, is for everyone”), because in a peasant family there were not “me” or “my” but only “us” and “ours”.
All this makes me proud to be “a-poor-girl-from-the-italian-countryside”.
(see also “I miss polenta – 1” https://misshome.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/98-i-miss-polenta/ )