Call me slow, an indisputable fact for one born in the fifties but I’ve just discovered that, according to Italians brought up in the homeland of polenta, that this versatile offshoot of corn has, wait for it, aphrodisiac powers. I’m reliably informed of this fact via an essay in the international organ ozy.com, which reports today on the development of a chain of polenta outlets that is sweeping Italy, and has made tentative steps into Spain.

The chain, called Il PolentOne, a canny only-in-Italy play on words on the derogatory term that the southerners used for those in the north polentoni (as in polenta gorgers), does to polenta what that American chain has done to hamburgers: ie made the grainy stuff into a fast food.

Before we leave the north-south divide: those in the north smash the southerners with the term terroni, which basically means deriving all from the land, which doesn’t seem such a whack to me. I do recall this north-south divide many years back, when a guest of the Italian Government on a trip through Calabria. At a delightful olive oil producer’s grove, just out of the Calabrian capital Reggio di Calabria, I recall the comment made by the southerner, when comparing his oil with that of the north, “Paaah,”he said, “Cat’s piss!”

But, back to the power of polenta. Ozy.com claims that the farming peasantry of the north, “gulped down huge quantities in the past so they could have lots of babies to boost their family workforce”;  and, “Plus, polenta is healthy: it kills cholesterol and is gluten-free (it’s made of maize). And alongside boosting sexual desire (which never hurts), it has powerful digestive properties.”

Sadly, when we wrote up the virtues and versatility of polenta in the most recent edition of TMix+ (Autumn/Winter), we had no idea that this was a wonder grain and could do great things for the libido of babies of the fifties. What we did discover in the process of making polenta in the Thermomix was that it had all the qualities that Marco Pirovano has claimed as he set up his chain of polentarias: his offerings include porcini mushrooms, yoghurt, bacon, salad greens, sugar, mozzarella, venison, hare, artichokes and…believe it or not…Nutella.

We’re with Marco in the broad principle: polenta is a wonderful base for anything, including, we did note, Vegemite!! Whether it has those other powers, we’ll leave that to your experimentation, or imagination.

On the other hand

We note, with interest another iconic Italian food item that does not, apparently, provide any super powers, at least for those who play the round ball game at the highest level.

The Spanish-born legendary coach, Pep Guardiola, appointed manager of English Premier League Club Manchester City this season, instituted the ban to ensure his players don their strips with not a hint of any bouncy skin folds. TMix+ wonders whether the ban includes churro that classic of the Iberian Peninsula—basically a choux pastry deep fried, and dipped in chocolate. As we recall from a couple of trips to Spain, it’s considered un-Spanish to miss out on churros at least once a week.

Asked to comment on the Man City ban, Fulham’s nutritionist, Caroline Farrell was all for it:

“You don’t get what’s needed from pizza. Players’ glycogen stores are used up, they need more protein and pizza is high in saturated fat and salt. Ideally what they should be having is fruit and veg, lean protein, complex carbohydrates.”

Ms Farrell would be a supporter of the big accounting firm KPMG’s decision to offer fruit, nuts and protein balls to staff at its new offices at Sydney’s Barangaroo, replacing the more usual packets of biscuits. The AFR reports that staff now knock off 50 kilograms of nuts, 1300 protein balls and 5000 pieces of fresh fruit each week.

Bans and fresh food fads come and go, as do soccer managers, We recall some years back, Paolo Di Canio, then manager of another EPL club Sunderland, declared a “complete revolution” on the way his players prepared for matches, including the rationing of coffee, with ketchup, mayonnaise and iced Coca-Cola on his banned list. He even put a stopper on mobile phones at training. “If someone comes inside with a mobile phone, even in the bag, I will take it and throw it away in the North Sea,” he said.

Apparently, the ban was not a winner. Di Canio was sacked after five EPL games into his tenure at Sunderland.

We do recall another famous ban, imposed on AFL players at one club in the roaring seventies: no sex before games please. We don’t know whether this worked as it was unclear how it was to be monitored. This was also an era before polenta had worked its way into the Australian diet.

And while we’re on coffee

Señor Di Canio has other things on his mind these days (he hasn’t managed a football club since 2008), but he would be interested in another yarn from ozy.com that casts a doubt on the restorative qualities of coffee. A meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies held in Denver recently pronounced that for the sleep-deprived coffee has a pick up benefit in the first few days after sleepless nights, but after that those on coffee and those on a placebo were as grumpy as one another.

This column is regularly amazed at the number of gatherings of single-focused bodies that gather and report, but this is one that we couldn’t conceive: the Denver event, in June, was the 30th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Authorities. This is no bunch of loonies, singing kumbaya: the editorial crew putting together the 441-page report in advance of the gathering is comprised of 183 men and women, all of whom had the title MD or PhD or similar attached to their name. If you’re interested in the report, you can find it here, but the last time I attempted a report running more than 400 pages, I got sleepy.

And finally

Another day, another International Day of…in this case, (August 5) it’s beer. We never thought that beer needed a push, but today’s the day if you’re into the amber fluid, and looking to diversify your habits: OUT: CUB and Lion Nathan’s basics; IN: any of the multitude of artisan brews that are popping up all over Australia and the United States, in particular.

The promoter, Jesse Avshalomiv who dreamed up the idea in 2007, says it’s all about:

  • gathering with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer.
  • celebrating the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer.
  • bringing the world together under the united banner of beer, by celebrating the beers of all nations and cultures together on this one remarkable day.

As this newsletter is always on the lookout for new ideas with food and drink, we were intrigued by some suggestions as to how to “gather and enjoy” on this day in which beer is front and centre. Wikipedia notes that “Popular forms of International Beer Day Events include: tapping of new or rare beers, (tick for that), all-day happy hours, (tick for that), beer flights, (tick for that), trivia nights, (tick for that), binge drinking (no, no, no)and other games (such as beer pong), beer/food pairings and beer gear giveaways.”

And, you’re asking, as we did, what is ‘beer pong’. Well, it’s just another example of the ingenuity of humankind. Here goes: you form two teams, of two or more “players” who line up 6 to 10 glasses of beer, and each side tosses ping pong balls into their opponent’s cups. If you land one, the opposition must drink.

Rest assured, this is one recipe that won’t be appearing in TMix+!!