In a medium cast-iron saucepan or other heavy pot, bring all ingredients except the cormeal to simmer over medium heat.
Very slowly, begin to sift the cornmeal into the pan through the fingers of one hand, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. Gradually sift all the meal into the pan, continue to stir and reduce the heat to medium low.
Continue to stir constantly until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred, about 30 minutes.
Discard the bay leaf, pour the polenta into a serving bowl or onto a wooden board, and allow it to rest 10 minutes.
To serve from the bowl, dip a large spoon into a hot water and scoop the polenta onto individual dishes, dipping the spoon in the water between scoops.
To serve from the board, cut the polenta into segments with a thin, taut string or a knife and transfer to plates with spatula or cake server.