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Title:
PROCESS AND PLANT FOR THE PRODUCTION OF A FILLED POLENTA PRODUCT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/015845
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Method and plant for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a product based on one or more flours intended to obtain a product stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients and product so obtained.

Inventors:
MAGRIS, Walter (Via Val Cosa 12, Travesio, 33090, IT)
BRAIDA, David (Via Val Cosa 12, Travesio, 33090, IT)
Application Number:
EP2015/001513
Publication Date:
February 04, 2016
Filing Date:
July 23, 2015
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
HOP STORE S.N.C. DI MAGRIS WALTER & C. (Via Val Cosa 12, Travesio, 33090, IT)
International Classes:
A21C9/08; A21C3/10
Foreign References:
FR2550062A31985-02-08
IT1249184B1995-02-20
KR20120086522A2012-08-03
GB2453202A2009-04-01
ITVR910019A11991-05-20
EP0383206A11990-08-22
EP1466544A12004-10-13
FR2550062A31985-02-08
IT1249184B1995-02-20
Other References:
ANONYMOUS: "GNPD - Cheese Filled Polenta", 31 March 2009 (2009-03-31), XP055089408, Retrieved from the Internet [retrieved on 20131120]
ANONYMOUS: "GNPD - Polenta alla Bolognese", 31 August 2003 (2003-08-31), XP055089411, Retrieved from the Internet [retrieved on 20131120]
"Ricetta Tortini di polenta ripieni", 25 January 2013 (2013-01-25), XP054976104, Retrieved from the Internet [retrieved on 20150929]
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
D'AGOSTINI, Giovanni (D'Agostini Organizzazione S.r.l, Via G. Giusti 17, Udine, 33100, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

1. Method for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours or a food product based on one or more flours of cereals, wherein said method comprises at least:

- one phase (B) which is a phase of preparation of ingredients of said food product wherein at least one of said one or more flours is corn flour or a cereal flour;

- one phase (C) which is a phase of introduction, mixing and cooking of said ingredients within a first container (17) obtaining a cooked mixture within said first container (17);

- one phase (D) which is a phase of distribution of said mixture from said first container (17) to at least one second container (18);

wherein the method comprises a phase of movement of a series of said second containers (18), wherein said second containers (18) are movable between one or more first distribution stations (11), one or more feeding stations (12) along at least one guide (21) which is provided with advancement means of said series of said second containers (18) and wherein the method further comprises at least one phase (E) which is a phase of stuffing or garnishing in which one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients are distributed within said second container (18) obtaining said product based on one or more flours which is a product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients,

said phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing being selected from:

- phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing comprising at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) before the feeding into said second container (18) of said mixture from said first container (17);

- phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing comprising at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) after the end of the feeding into said second container (18) of said mixture from said first container (17);

- phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing comprising at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) which is a following phase with respect to a first phase of addition of said mixture from said first container (17) in said second container (18), said phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container ( 8) being followed by a phase of additional second feeding of said mixture from said first container (17) into said second container (18);

- phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing comprising at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) which is a following phase with respect to one single phase of addition of said mixture from said first container (17) in said second container (18), said phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) being a phase of injection of said one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the volume of said mixture previously introduced into said second container (18);

after said phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing there being phases of packaging with the possible sterilization of said product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients characterised in that said phase (D) of distribution of the mixture includes at least one phase of advancement of the mixture within an elongate element (75) with a simultaneous phase of cooling of the mixture during its dispensing.

2. Method for the production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that said phase (D) which is a phase of distribution of said mixture from said first container (17) to at least one second container (18), preferably to a series of said second containers (18), is subdivided into a phase (D') of distribution of said mixture from said first container (17) to at least one second container (18) and into a phase (D") of cooling and moulding of said mixture within said at least one second container (18), said phase (D") of cooling and moulding occurring by means of a cooling counter-mould which is intended to be inserted into the volume defined by said second container (18) within which said mixture is.

3. Method for the production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 1 to 2 characterised in that

- it comprises a phase of rotation of a rotating frame (16) supporting at least one pair of said first containers (17) between at least two positions of which a first position is a charging position in a charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of said pair of first containers (17) is and of which a second position is an extraction position in an extraction station (45) in which the other of said first containers (17) of said pair of first containers (17) is, wherein the phase (B) of preparation of the ingredients and the phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients within the first container (17) which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) occurs at least partially simultaneously with respect to the phase (D) of distribution of said mixture and with respect to the phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing within the first container (17) which is in said second extraction position in the extraction station (45), said phase of rotation occurring after the end of said phase (D) of distribution of said mixture from said first container ( 7) with almost total emptying of the mixture contained within said first container (17);

or characterised in that

- it comprises a phase of rotation of a rotating frame (16) supporting at least three of said first containers (17) between at least three positions of which said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of said three first containers (17) is, said second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which another of said first containers (17) of said three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44), a third washing position in a cleaning station (46) in which another of said first containers (17) of said three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) and with respect to the first container which is in said second extraction position in the extraction station (45), said third washing position in the cleaning station (46) being a position in which there is a phase of washing of said first container (17) which is in said third washing position in the cleaning station (46), said phase of washing occurring at least partially simultaneously with respect to the phase (D) of distribution of said mixture and with respect to the phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing from the first container (17) which is in said second extraction position in the extraction station (45).

4. Method for the production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 1 to 3 characterised in that said phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients comprises at least one phase in which mixing means (32) perform a mixing of said ingredients at a first mixing speed V1 and at least one phase in which mixing means (32) perform a mixing of said ingredients at a second mixing speed V2, said phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients preferably comprising at least the following phases:

(C1) addition of a given quantity of water with optional addition of oil, preferably olive oil, in the first container (17) through proportioning means;

(C2) activation of first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C3) heating of the water by means of the first heating means (30) of the first container (17) up to a cooking temperature, said cooking temperature being preferably between 70°C and 100°C according to a recipe for preparing the mixture;

(C4) lowering within said first container (17) of mixing means (32) and activation of the mixing means (32) at a first mixing speed V1 ;

(C5) addition of given quantities of salt and gradual addition of given quantities of one or more flours with optional addition of oil, preferably olive oil, in the first container (17) until reaching a given overall quantity;

(C6) waiting for a first time T1 of cooking according to the recipe for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the first mixing speed V1 and with the simultaneous heating by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C7) change in the speed of the mixing means (32) from the first mixing speed V1 to the second mixing speed V2;

(C8) waiting for a second time T2 of cooking according to the recipe for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the second mixing speed V2 and with the simultaneous heating by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17).

5. Method for the production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that

- said first mixing speed V1 is between a minimum value of 5 turns/minute and a maximum value of 1000 turns/minute, preferably said first mixing speed V1 being between a minimum value of 10 turns/minute and a maximum value of 750 turns/minute or characterised in that said second mixing speed V2 is between a minimum value of 100 turns/minute and a maximum value of 3000 turns/minute, preferably said second mixing speed V2 being between a minimum value of 200 turns/minute and a maximum value of 2800 turns/minute;

or characterised in that

- said first time T1 is between 5 minutes and 80 minutes, preferably said first time T1 being between 10 minutes and 50 minutes or characterised in that said second time T2 is between 1 minute and 40 minutes, preferably said second time T2 being between 2 minutes and 20 minutes.

6. Method for the production of a food product according to any of the previous claims characterised in that said method further comprises one or more of the following phases:

- phase of overturning of the food product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients from said at least one second container (18) onto a conveyor belt which is intended to convey said food product to corresponding stations in which further processing phases of said food product occur;

(F) phase of deep-freezing of said food product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients, said phase of deep-freezing including a phase of lowering of the temperature of said product to a temperature preferably between 20 °C and -40 °C;

(G) phase of packaging of said product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients, said phase of packaging including the application of a closing film on the second container (18) which closes the opening of introduction of the mixture and of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients or on an alternative casing containing said product;

(H) phase of sterilization comprising at least one phase of sterilization selected from phase of sterilization by means of microwaves, phase of sterilization by means of infrared rays, combined phase of sterilization by means of microwaves and infrared rays, high pressure sterilization treatment (HPP), phase of sterilization by means of heating in a gas or electrical oven preferably for 20 minutes at 180 centigrade degrees.

7. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours or a food product based on one or more flours of cereals, said plant (1) comprising a first container (17) supported by a frame (16), said first container (17) being intended to receive within it the ingredients of said food product, said plant (1) being provided with first heating means (30) which are intended to heat said first container (17) and which are intended to carry out the cooking of said ingredients obtaining a cooked mixture within said first container (17), said first heating means (30) being preferably induction heating means or electrical resistors circumferentially applied externally on the walls of said first container (17), externally being referred to the volume defined by said first container (17) and intended to contain the ingredients suitable for the production of said mixture, said plant (1) being provided with mixing means (32) of said mixture, said plant comprising a series of second containers (18) or second containment means for said mixture, said second containers (18) or said second containment means for said mixture being movable between one or more first distribution stations (11), one or more feeding stations (12) along at least one guide (21) which is provided with advancement means of said series of said second containers (18) or of said second containment means for said mixture,

said plant comprising:

- at least one first distribution station (11) of said first distribution stations (11), which is intended for the distribution of said mixture towards said series of second containers (18) or said second containment means for the mixture intended for the formation of said product based on one or more flours;

- at least one first feeding station (12) of said one or more feeding stations (12) which is intended for the feeding of one . or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into said second container (18) or said second containment means for the mixture obtaining said product based on one or more flours which is a product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients;

wherein said first distribution station (11) comprises at least one dispensing device (22, 23) for the proportioning of the mixture towards said second container (18) or said second containment means for the mixture, said dispensing device (22, 23) and said first feeding station (12) being connected to a common distribution nozzle (78) for said mixture and said stuffing or garnishing ingredients, characterised in that said at least one dispensing device (22, 23) comprises an elongate element (75) which is affected by a flow of a cooling fluid of the mixture.

8. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that said plant operates according to a method for the continuous production of a product based on one or more flours according to any of the previous claims 1 to 7.

9. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 8 characterised in that the feeding of said one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients in said first feeding station (12) occurs by means of a proportioning device (25) made in the form of an elongate element (75) within which a worm screw (76) rotates which is intended to cause the advancement of said stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients which are introduced into said elongate element by means of a feeding mouth (77) and which exit through said nozzle (78).

10. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 9 characterised in that said nozzle (78) comprises an internally hollow body (97) delimiting a distribution space (98) into which said mixture is fed by means of at least one pipe (62, 96), said body (97) having a first channel (92) in flow communication with said distribution space (98) intended for the dispensing of said mixture, said first channel (92) being internally crossed by at least one additional channel (93, 94, 95) which is placed internally and essentially centrally with respect to said first channel (92) and intended for the dispensing of said stuffing or garnishing ingredients.

11. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that said first channel (92) is circular and said additional channel (93, 94, 95) is circular, said additional channel (93, 94, 95) being placed internally concentrically with respect to said first channel (92).

12. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 11 characterised in that said first channel (92) is internally crossed by more than one of said additional channels (93, 94, 95), preferably at least one second channel (93) and one third channel (94) and optionally a fourth channel (95) which are placed internally and essentially centrally with respect to said first channel (92) and which are intended for the dispensing of said stuffing or garnishing ingredients.

13. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to the previous claim and according to claim 11 characterised in that said additional channels (93, 94, 95) are circular and are placed concentrically inside one another, said additional channels (93, 94, 95) having progressively decreasing external diameters from the outside to the inside of the concentric configuration and leaving a circular rim between one channel and the following one in the sequence of concentric channels for the passage of said stuffing or garnishing ingredients.

14. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 10 to 13 characterised in that said nozzle (78) comprises said internally hollow body (97) delimiting said distribution space (98) into which said mixture is fed, the feeding of the mixture occurring by means of a first pipe (62) and of a second pipe (96) which are placed on reciprocally opposite sides of said body (97).

15. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 14 characterised in that said frame (16) is a frame supporting at least one pair of said first containers (17), said frame (16) being able to be rotated between at least two positions of which a first charging position in a station and mixing charging (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of said pair of first containers (17) is and a second extraction position in an extraction station (45) in which the other of said first containers (17) of said pair of first containers (17) is, said charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) being intended for the introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients in the first container (17) which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44), said extraction position in the extraction station (45) being intended for the distribution of said mixture from the first container which is in said second position towards said second container (18) or said second containment means for said mixture,

or characterised in that said frame (16) is a frame supporting at least three of said first containers (17), said frame (16) being able to be rotated between at least three positions of which

- said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of said three first containers (17) is;

- said second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which another of said first containers (17) of said three first containers ( 7) is with respect to the first container which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44);

- a third washing position in a cleaning station (46) in which another of said first containers (17) of said three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in said first charging position in said charging and mixing station (44) and with respect to the first container which is in said second extraction position in the extraction station (45), said third washing position in the cleaning station (46) being a position in which said first container is washed by means of washing means of said plant (1).

16. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 15 characterised in that said mixing means (32) of said mixture are provided with vertical movement means which are intended to bring said mixing means (32) between an insertion position in which said mixing means (32) are inserted into said first container (17) and a retracted position in which said mixing means (32) are extracted outside with respect to the internal volume defined by said first container (17).

17. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 16 characterised in that said mixing means (32) of said mixture comprise at least one blade (33) which is intended to be put in rotation within said first container (17) and further comprise at least one scraper (34) which is intended to scrape the internal side surface of said first container (17), said blade (33) developing according to a radial direction starting from a supporting rod (35) which transmits the rotational motion, said blade (33) approximately extending over a width portion which corresponds to the radius of said first container (17), said blade (33) being placed on said rod (35) according to a radial direction which is an opposite radial direction with respect to the radial direction along which said scraper (34) is placed and said blade (33) being shaped in the form of a palette provided with through- slots (57) or recesses (58) in correspondence of the side of the palette which is near the wall of the first container (17).

18. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 17 characterised in that said distribution station (11 ) comprises extraction means (47) of the mixture from said first container (17), said extraction means (47) of the mixture being means of application of an extrusion pressure of the mixture made in form of a plate (41) which is intended to be lowered onto the mixture within said first container (17).

19. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 18 characterised in that said at least one dispensing device (22, 23) is of the pneumatic type made of a motion cylinder which is coupled with a proportioning cylinder, the distribution of the mixture towards said second container (18) or said containment means for said mixture occurring by means of a rotating valve.

20. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 19 characterised in that said elongate element (75) internally comprises at least two concentric conduits of which:

- a first conduit (24) is affected by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24) according to a direction from the first container (17) towards one of the distribution stations (1 1 , 14) for the distribution of the mixture within the second containers (18) or said containment means for said mixture;

- a second conduit (26), or a third conduit (71), or a combination of a second conduit (26) and third conduit (71), which are affected by said flow of cooling fluid which is a countercurrent flow with respect to the advancement direction of the mixture within the first conduit (24).

21. Plant (1 ) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that said second conduit (26) is placed concentrically internally with respect to the first conduit (24), the second conduit (26) being obtained internally to the body of the worm screw (76).

22. Plant (1 ) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 20 to 21 characterised in that said third conduit (71) is placed concentrically externally with respect to the first conduit (24).

23. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 20 to 22 characterised in that it comprises a pump (86) which is intended to control the flow of cooling fluid towards the dispensing device (22, 23) so that it crosses the second conduit (26) and/or the third conduit (71) taking away heat from the mixture which passes through the first conduit (24).

24. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to the previous claim characterised in that it comprises a heat exchanger (85) which is intended for the circulation of said cooling fluid and recovering the heat from said cooling fluid coming from the mixture and intended to convey said recovered heat towards said charging and mixing station (44).

25. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 20 to 24 characterised in that said cooling fluid is microfiltered water suitable for food use which, following the heating obtained by the passage in said second conduit (26) or third conduit (71), is introduced into said charging and mixing station (44) for the production of additional mixture.

26. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 20 to 25 characterised in that it comprises a temperature sensor which measures the temperature of the mixture coming out of said dispensing device (22, 23), a control unit (29) controlling the exit temperature of the mixture acting on one or more between: - adjustment of the flow rate of the cooling fluid;

- adjustment of the rotational speed of the screw (76) in order to slow down or speed up the passage of the mixture in the first conduit (24).

27. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 26 characterised in that said second container (18) is shaped with a hollow (52) which is intended to receive said mixture within it, said second container comprising a flat body (49) in correspondence of a central portion of which said hollow (52) is obtained for the deposition of the product, from said body (49) two protrusions (50) developing in radially opposite directions with respect to the centre of said hollow (52), on each of said two protrusions an eyelet (51) being obtained to fix said second container (18) on a support (48) which is intended to constitute a fixing interface on said guide (21), preferably said second container (18) being essentially shaped as a half sphere, more preferably said second container (18) being shaped as a half sphere with a food-safe internal coating of the non-sticking type, even more preferably said second container (18) being shaped as a half sphere made of food- safe polytetrafluoroethylene or silicone.

28. Plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product according to any of the previous claims 7 to 27 characterised in that it comprises at least one station selected from:

- a temperature lowering station (4) which is intended to lower the temperature of said product based on one or more flours, said temperature lowering station (4) being possibly separate with respect to a main working line and being provided with deviation lines of the product towards said temperature lowering station from said main working line and re-addressing lines of the product towards the main line after the passage in the temperature lowering station (4);

- a sterilization station (6) made in the form of a sterilization oven selected from the group consisting of microwave oven, infrared oven, combined microwave and infrared oven, gas oven, electrical oven or in the form of an HPP high pressure sterilization treatment station.

29. Food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours or food product based on one or more flours of cereals made up of a mixture (80) characterised in that it comprises internally with respect to said mixture (80) a stuffing (81 ) made with different stuffing ingredients with respect to the ingredients for preparing said mixture (80), said food product internally comprising said stuffing (81) being obtained by means of a method according to any of the previous claims 1 to 6 or by means of a plant according to any of the previous claims 7 to 28.

Description:
DESCRIPTION

PROCESS AND PLANT FOR THE PRODUCTION OF A FILLED POLENTA PRODUCT

Technical field

The present invention relates to a method for the automated or partially automated production of a food product based on one or more flours according to the characteristics of the pre- characterizing part of claim 1.

The present invention relates to a plant for the automated or partially automated production of a food product based on one or more flours according to the characteristics of the pre- characterizing part of claim 7.

Definitions

In the present description and in the appended claims the following terms must be understood according to the definitions given in the following.

The term "polenta" indicates a semi-solid mixture prepared by cooking a mixture comprising at least water, salt and corn flour, which can be coarse-grained yellow corn flour, fine-grained yellow corn flour, white corn flour, red corn flour, grey corn flour or a mixture thereof optionally with the addition of other types of flours such as spelt flour, buckwheat flour, chestnut flour, millet flour, etc.

Although explicit reference to preparations based on corn flour will be made, in general the present invention should be intended as referring to preparations based on flour or flours of cereals.

Prior art

In the field of production of polenta solutions for the automated production of polenta are known in which polenta is steam cooked in double-bottom pots.

The working cycle begins with the charging of the hot water into the pot, then one adds flours and salt and the steam cooking phase begins. At the end of cooking the polenta is extracted by a pump which at the same time injects the polenta in a tubular plastic film which has been previously applied on an injection pipe. A packaging machine hermetically seals the packages to obtain the packaging. Finally the polenta packages just come out of the packaging machine must be housed inside the moulds so that when they have cooled they take the desired shape, this process requiring some cooling hours before the packages can be put into boxes.

Patent Application IT VR 910 019 describes a process for the production of packaged cooked polenta in which the operating phases of the process occur in a sterile environment and in which the operating phases include phases of proportioning and mixing of corn flour from storage silos and pre-salted water from a container, phases of steam cooking of the obtained mixture maintaining a high temperature, phases of proportioning into trays having a pre-set volume and following phases of cooling and packaging with ultraviolet light sterilization.

Patent Application EP 383 206 describes a machine for obtaining a dough comprising compounds based on starch, the machine comprising a mixer, a manipulator for remixing the dough at reduced speed and at a substantially constant temperature for a predetermined time. Patent Application EP 1 466 544 describes a container or pot for preparing polenta at home which is provided with a body with an internal semi-cylindrical bottom, a turning stirrer on the bottom of the body, a gearmotor device for controlling the rotation of the internal stirrer, and a distribution outlet obtained in one wall of said body on a level with its bottom. An obturator means is associated with the distribution outlet, said obturator means moving between a closing and opening position for a controlled distribution of the polenta by means of the internal stirrer which pushes it towards the distribution outlet.

Patent Application FR 2 550 062 describes a method for preparing a cooked dish based on corn flour, which includes a freezing phase. The method consists in sprinkling corn flour, whilst stirring, into boiling water, in leaving the mixture for 30 minutes, in pouring it into a previously oiled aluminium tray, then in pouring into the paste, which has begun to harden in contact with the air, the sauce composed of onions, tomato puree, carrots, vegetable oil, salt and pepper, white wine and small pieces of beef fried for approximately 10 minutes, then in freezing and in finally covering with aluminium foil.

Patent Application IT 1 249 184 describes a process for preparing cooked and packaged polenta. The process, part of which is carried out in a sterile environment, comprises the operating phases of measuring and mixing corn flour and previously salted water, steam cooking, cooking after the maintenance of the polenta at high temperature, proportioning of the polenta in tins, cooling of the polenta, sterilization of the polenta by means of ultraviolet rays, removal of the polenta from the tins, packaging. Optionally, the method also includes an additional phase of cutting of the polenta into slices of given sizes.

Problems of the prior art

The prior art solutions are highly industrialized processes which do not allow to obtain results similar to those of the preparation at home.

The prior art products are products which are not suitable for consuming the polenta as ready- to-eat food but they are intended to be subjected to further cooking for example on a grill or in an oven to provide for the lack of organoleptic characteristics of the product which essentially derive from the industrial production process.

Furthermore, the prior art products often require the use of additives and preservatives.

Furthermore, the prior art solutions do not enable an effective distribution of the product within the containers for the following working phases.

Aim of the invention

The aim of the present invention is to provide a plant for the production of polenta - also stuffed polenta - which allows to obtain a product with a fragrance and organoleptic characteristics very close to those of a product freshly made at home.

A further aim of the present invention is to obtain a product, which is divided into portions suitable for individual consumption.

A further aim of the present invention is to obtain a product, that is to say polenta, on an industrial scale which can be preserved in vacuum packages and/or in a controlled atmosphere. Furthermore, an aim of the present invention is to enable an effective distribution of the product within the containers enabling an at least partial recovery of the energy used for cooking the product.

Concept of the invention

The aim is achieved by the characteristics of the main claim. The sub-claims represent advantageous solutions. Advantageous effects of the invention

The solution according to the present invention, by the considerable creative contribution the effect of which constitutes an immediate and important technical progress, presents various advantages.

The product obtained according to the present invention enables packaging in proportions or portions suitable for individual consumption or in greater quantities according to requirements. Furthermore, the solution according to the present invention also allows to obtain a product suitable to be preserved for long periods without the need to add preservatives.

Moreover, the solution according to the present invention allows to add a variety of additional ingredients aimed at obtaining different formulations and recipes with different flavours, similarly to home preparations.

The solution according to the present invention allows to obtain a product similar to that prepared at home but made advantageously and economically by means of an automated process.

Furthermore, the solution according to the present invention allows to recover at least one part of the energy used for cooking the product, thus allowing to save energy.

Description of the drawings

In the following a solution is described with reference to the enclosed drawings, which are to be considered as non-exhaustive example of the present invention in which:

Fig. 1 shows a schematic view of the polenta production plant made in accordance with the present invention.

Fig. 2 shows an enlargement of some of the sections of the polenta production plant of Fig. 1. Fig. 3 schematically shows a flowchart depicting the method of operation of the plant according to the invention.

Fig. 4 schematically shows a portion of the polenta production plant made according to the present invention related to a cooking position in a first condition.

Fig. 5 schematically shows a portion of the polenta production plant made according to the present invention related to a cooking position in a second condition. Fig. 6 schematically shows a portion of the polenta production plant made according to the present invention related to a position of extraction of the product from the cooking container. Fig. 7 schematically shows a side view of the packaging container.

Fig. 8 schematically shows a perspective view of the packaging container.

Fig. 9 schematically shows a perspective view of the packaging container.

Fig. 10 schematically shows a perspective view of the proportioning station of the polenta production plant made in accordance with the present invention.

Fig. 11 shows the product based on one or more flours according to the present invention within the preparation container of the product.

Fig. 12 shows the product based on one or more flours according to the present invention in a first embodiment.

Fig. 13 and Fig. 14 show a different processing phase of the method according to the invention.

Fig. 15 shows the product based on one or more flours according to the present invention in a second embodiment.

Fig. 16 shows a three-dimensional view of the dispensing device.

Fig. 17 shows a plan view of the dispensing device of the plant according to the invention.

Fig. 18 shows a view of the dispensing device of the plant according to the invention according to the section line indicated by A-A in Fig. 17.

Fig. 19 shows an enlarged view of the detail indicated by B in Fig. 18.

Fig. 20 shows an enlarged view of the detail indicated by C in Fig. 18.

Fig. 21 shows a three-dimensional view of the dispensing device.

Fig. 22 shows an enlarged view of the detail indicated by D in Fig. 21.

Fig. 23 shows a sectional view of a different embodiment of the dispensing device of the plant according to the invention.

Fig. 24 shows a sectional view of a different embodiment of the dispensing device of the plant according to the invention.

Fig. 25 shows a schematic view of the fluid circulation system of the polenta production plant made in accordance with the present invention. Fig. 26 shows a schematic view of a possible embodiment of a proportioning device for stuffing ingredients of the polenta production plant made in accordance with the present invention. Fig. 27, Fig. 28, Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31 schematically show possible shapes of the dispensing nozzle.

Description of the invention

With reference to the Figures (Fig. 1 , Fig. 2), the plant (1) for the automated or partially automated production of a product based on one or more flours, of which at, least one flour is a flour of cereals, comprises a mixing and cooking station (2) which is connected to a preparation station (3) followed by a temperature lowering station (4), a packaging station (5) and by a sterilization station (6).

With reference (Fig. 2) to the mixing and cooking station (2) the components of the preparation are added into a first container (17) or cooking container which is a container similar to a pot and is provided with an integrated heating system comprising first heating means (30). The first container (17) for the preparation of the mixture was made to size to contain the desired quantity of product. The integrated heating system is preferably made up of one or more electrical resistors placed according to a bundle configuration which envelops the whole first container (17) in order to prevent the heating of the bottom of the first container (17). As an alternative, one can also provide induction heating means. The induction heating means allow to advantageously obtain a rapid and controlled heating by means of electrical currents induced in the material of the first container (17) in order to generate the heat necessary for the process with additional energy saving, management simplicity, cost-effectiveness of the plant. The heating temperatures can reach 250°C and are monitored (Fig. 6) by a temperature probe (56) coupled with a thermoregulator which perfectly controls the pre-set temperature keeping it constant for the period of cooking of the product mixed within the first container (17).

The mixing and cooking station (2) is managed by means of a control unit (29), preferably in the form of a programmable controller or equivalent control means. The control unit (29) is intended to control the entire process and the parameters of the preparation recipes in order to monitor and control the phases of preparation of the product according to the recipes in a constant and safe way. Optionally, as an alternative to the use of the thermoregulator, the heating temperature of the first container (17) can also be controlled directly by the control unit (29) according to the preparation recipes and according to the phases of the product preparation process.

Advantageously, by means of the plant according to the invention it is possible to obtain a continuous polenta production process.

The method of production of a product based on one or more flours, of which at least one flour is a flour of cereals, comprises (Fig. 3) the following operating phases:

(A) Selection of a recipe

(B) Preparation of the ingredients

(C) Introduction, mixing and cooking

(D) Distribution of the mixture

(E) Stuffing and/or garnishing

(F) Deep-freezing

(G) Packaging

(H) Sterilization

(M) Putting into boxes

With reference to the phase (A) of selection of a recipe, the method according to the present invention for the production of a product based on one or more flours, of which at least one flour is a flour of cereals, allows to prepare products according to different recipes which can comprise different ingredients both as regards the phase (C) which is the phase of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients for the production of the mixture and as regards the phase of stuffing and/or garnishing.

For example the recipe of preparation of the mixture could include the following ingredients, as a non-exhaustive example for the purposes of the present invention:

- from 30 to 40 litres of water;

- from 0.01 to 0.04 litres of oil, preferably olive oil;

- from 10 to 15 kg of corn flour selected from white, yellow, red, grey corn flour or a combination thereof;

- from 0 to 20 kg of other types of flour, such as flour of cereals, spelt flour, buckwheat flour, chestnut flour, millet flour or a combination thereof;

- from 0.30 to 0.50 kg of salt;

- from 3.00 to 6.00 kg of one or more cheeses;

For example the cheeses could be:

- from 1.00 to 2.00 kg of a first type of cheese, preferably aged with an ageing period of 12 months, ground in a specific proportion by means of an automatic machine;

- from 0.60 to 1.20 kg of a second type of cheese, preferably aged with an ageing period of 6 months, ground in a specific proportion by means of an automatic machine;

- from 1.00 to 1.50 kg of a third type of cheese, ground in a specific proportion by means of an automatic machine;

- from 0.10 to 0.30 kg of a fourth type of cheese, ground in a specific proportion by means of an automatic machine;

- from 0.30 to 1.00 kg of a fifth type of cheese, ground in a specific proportion by means of an automatic machine.

For example the first type of cheese can be cheese of the type known as "Montasio". For example the second type of cheese can be cheese of the type known as "Montasio". For example the third type of cheese can be cheese of the type known as "Emmental". For example the fourth type of cheese can be cheese of the type known as "provolone". For example the fifth type of cheese can be cheese of the type known as "formaggio salato" (salty cheese).

For example the corn flour can be ground according to industrial methods or stone or mill ground.

Furthermore, the recipe for preparing the product may include the stuffing and/or garnishing with further ingredients which are applied on the previously cooked mixture or inside the previously cooked mixture. The further stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients can include, for example and without limits for the purposes of the present invention, sausage, beans, further cheeses, such as grated cheese, salty cheese, sauces, mushrooms, etc. As a consequence, the second phase (B), which is a phase of preparation of the ingredients, is a phase in which on the basis of the recipes the feeding stations (12, 13) are prearranged with the necessary ingredients during the phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients or during the phase (E) of stuffing and/or garnishing.

The phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients includes the following phases:

(C1) addition of a given quantity of water into the first container (17) through proportioning means and possible addition of a given quantity of oil into the first container (17);

(C2) activation of first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C3) heating of the water by means of the first heating means (30) of the first container (17) up to a cooking temperature, said cooking temperature being preferably between 70°C and 100°C according to the recipes for preparing the mixture;

(C4) lowering within the first container (17) of mixing means (32) and activation of the mixing means (32) at a first mixing speed V1 ;

(C5) optional addition of a given quantity of oil into the first container (17) and addition of a given quantity of salt and gradual addition of a given quantity of one or more flours into the first container (17) until reaching a given overall quantity;

(C6) waiting for a first time T1 of cooking according to the recipes for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the first mixing speed V1 and with the simultaneous mixing by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C7) change in the speed of the mixing means (32) from the first mixing speed V1 to a second mixing speed V2;

(C8) waiting for a second time T2 of cooking according to the recipes for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the second mixing speed V2 and the simultaneous heating by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C9) deactivation of the first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C10) addition of one or more cheeses, if provided and required by the recipe, keeping the mixing means (32) active to incorporate the one or more cheeses into the mixture; (C11) deactivation of the mixing means (32).

The addition of water, oil, flour, salt can occur both automatically and manually by an operator who introduces into the first container (17) some quantities previously prepared by means of ingredient proportioning means.

As an alternative to or in combination with the manual addition of the ingredients one can also provide an automatic addition of the ingredients or of part of them. For example the automatic addition of the ingredients can occur by means of electrical movement devices, pneumatic devices. For example various types of flours can be stored in one or more tanks (8, 9), such as a first tank (8) for a first type of flour and a second tank (9) for a second type of flour. The tanks (8, 9) can include a related underlying extraction system formed for example by rotating valves or rotary feeders coupled with a vibrating cone with a suction system by means of vacuum- operated pumps. One can also provide a passage of the flour or of the flours through a vibrating sieve for the purpose of eliminating any possible residues to prevent such residues from being introduced into the first container (17). The flour or flours then reach a reservoir which is placed above the first container (17). The other ingredients, too, are stored in reservoirs above the first container (17). In practice (Fig. 10), the set of reservoirs makes up a proportioning station (68) of the components or ingredients to be introduced into the first container (17) according to the recipe to be prepared and selected from a series of pre-set recipes, for example by means of the control unit (29). For example, one can provide a first reservoir (59) which is intended to contain the flour, a second reservoir (60) which is intended to contain the oil, a third reservoir which is intended to contain the salt, etc. The water is preferably contained in a third tank (64). The reservoirs (59, 60, 61) are proportioning containers for food use preferably comprising charging cells for calibrating weight in order to control the proportioning of the ingredients during the phase of filling of the proportioning containers. Once the desired proportioning has been obtained, the control unit (29), acting by means of electrical or pneumatic control lines (63), will command the discharge of the ingredients towards the mixing container (17) at the moment in which there is the addition of each specific ingredient on the basis of the recipe set. For example, with reference to the flour, once the control unit (29) has detected by means of the charging cells that in the first reservoir (59) there is the quantity of flour required by the selected recipe and once the time provided by the preparation method has come, which is the moment of the phase of addition of the flour, the control unit (29) will command the addition of the flour contained in the first reservoir (59) by means of one of the control lines (63). The discharge can occur for example by means of a specific on-off opening valve (66) preferably of the pneumatic type and even more preferably provided with an extraction Archimedean screw which brings the flour into the mixing container (17).

The third tank (64) is a proportioning container for food use which is intended to contain the water and which preferably comprises second heating means (not shown) preferably in the form of electrical resistors or induction heating means which are intended to pre-heat the water contained in it before the latter is fed into the first container (17). Preferably the pre-heating of the water in the third tank (64) keeps the water at a temperature between 80 and 95 centigrade degrees, even more preferably 90 centigrade degrees, so that the water contained in it is as close as possible to the boiling temperature without reaching it, thus minimizing the heating time in the first container (17) and speeding up the phases of preparation of the product. The proportioning of the water from the third tank (64) is carried out by means of a litre-counter, preferably a litre-counter of the mass type for measuring in a precise way the quantity of water introduced into the first container (17). The feeding of water preferably occurs by means of a pump (65) connected to the first container (17).

Also as regards the proportioning of oil, it can be carried out by means of a litre-counter preferably a litre-counter of the mass type for measuring in a precise way the quantity of oil introduced into the first container (17). The feeding of oil preferably occurs by means of a pump, which, in some embodiments can also be the same pump (65) connected to the first container (17), in order to be able to use only one pump for the feeding of the liquid ingredients. Obviously one can also provide specific pumps which are more suitable for the characteristics of the liquids to be introduced into the first container (17).

The mixing means (32) of the mixture are provided with vertical movement means which are intended to move the mixing means (32) between an insertion position in which the mixing means (32) are inserted (Fig. 5) in the first container (17) and a retracted position in which the mixing means (32) are (Fig. 4) extracted outside with respect to the internal volume defined by the first container (17). The mixing means (32) preferably comprise (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) at least one blade (33) rotating within the first container (17). Even more preferably the mixing means (32) further comprise (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) at least one scraper (34) which is intended to scrape the internal side surface of the first container (17) to prevent the product from adhering too long to said side surface, which may lead to overcooked or burnt portions of product due to the fact that the walls of the first container (17) are subjected to the heating action by the first heating means (30). The terms "internal" and "external" referring to the first container (17) must be intended as referring to the volume defined by the container itself, internal being meant to be referring to the volume of containment of ingredients or mixture of the first container, external being meant to be referring to the outside of said volume of containment. In the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the mixing means (32) are made in the form of (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) a rod (35) which extends in correspondence of a central axis of the first container (17), which will preferably have a regular cylinder shape. At least one blade (33) and at least one scraper (34) are fixed to the rod (35), optionally there also being a greater number of blades (33) and/or a greater number of scrapers (34). The scraper (34) is supported by means of a pair of arms (37). Preferably the scraper (34) has an elongate shape and develops parallel to the rod (35). The arms (37) have a length essentially corresponding to the radius of the first container (17) decreased by the width of the scraper (34), so that the radially external end of the scraper (34) is in a condition of contact with or only slightly spaced from the internal wall of the first container (17). The scraper (34) will be preferably made of a plastic material for food use such as teflon or acetal resin or still can be made of a metal material coated or superficially treated with a plastic material for food use.

The blade (33) is preferably made in the form of a palette developing according to a radial direction starting from the rod (35) and extending approximately over a width portion which corresponds to the radius of the first container (17). Preferably the blade (33) is placed on the rod (35) according to a radial direction which is an opposite radial direction with respect to the radial direction along which the scraper (34) is placed, so that, during the rotation of the mixing means (32) in the first container (17), the blade (33) performs the mixing action in correspondence of an opposite side of the first container (17) with respect to the side in correspondence of which the scraper (34) acts. Advantageously the blade (33) is shaped in the form of a palette provided with slots (57) which may also be made in the form of circular holes or variously shaped holes. Furthermore, the palette-shaped blade (33) can also comprise a recess (58) in correspondence of the side of the palette which is near the wall of the first container (17), so that, advantageously, the blade (33) does not perform an action of scraping of the product from the internal wall of the first container but only an action of mixing of the product contained therein. The shape as a palette with slots (57) and recesses (58) is advantageous because the product to be mixed becomes progressively thicker and the presence of wide pushing surfaces present on the blade facilitates the action of mixing of the product which, under the action of the blade (33) which moves through it, will tend to cross the slots (57) and the recesses (58) passing from one side to the opposite side of the blade (33) obtaining an effective mixing action and contributing to obtaining a more homogenous product during the cooking phase.

The rod (35) is mounted in correspondence of a cover (31) to which the motor (36) is fixed (Fig. 5) which puts in rotation the mixing means (32), the motor (36) being fixed to the cover (31 ) in correspondence of the opposite side of the cover (31) with respect to the side of the cover (31 ) facing the first container (17) and which is intended to be in contact with it along an upper perimeter edge of the first container (17). Preferably the cover (31) is made (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) with a first portion (38) and a second portion (39) reciprocally hinged and fixed by means of hinges (40), so that the second portion (39) can be lifted allowing access into the first container (17) also during the cooking phase when the mixing means (32) are in operation, for example for inspection purposes or for the feeding of further ingredients during such phases.

The mixing means (32) and the cover (31) with the respective motor (36) can be lifted and lowered between at least two positions of which a first position is a position (Fig. 4) in which the mixing means (32) are completely extracted out of the first container (17) and a second position in which the mixing means (32) are completely inserted in the first container (17) and the cover (31 ) closes the first container (17) on the upper part. In this way (Fig. 1 , Fig. 2) it will be possible to command the rotation of a frame (16) which supports a number of first containers (17) so that by means of the rotation of the frame (16) the various first containers (17) can be placed in correspondence of different positions within a working chamber (27). For example one can provide:

- a first position or charging position in a charging and mixing station (44) in which the previously described phase (B) of preparation of the ingredients occurs;

- a second position or extraction position in an extraction station (45) in which the phase (D) of distribution of the mixture occurs.

- a third position or washing position in a cleaning station (46) in which an additional phase occurs which is a phase of washing of the first container (17) prior to its following re-use for a new preparation of product.

The previously described phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients can occur in correspondence of the first position or charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) or can occur in correspondence of the second position or extraction position in an extraction station (45). Advantageously it can be provided that the phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients occurs in correspondence of the first position or charging position in the charging and mixing station (44), so that while in one of the first containers (17) the cooking of the product occurs in correspondence of the first position in the charging and mixing station (44), another first container (17) containing the cooked product can be in correspondence of the second position or extraction position in an extraction station (45) so that the extraction of the product proceeds while additional product is being prepared in the first container (17) which is in the first position or charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) and is further intended for the cooking of the product. Simultaneously an additional first container (17) can be in the third position or washing position in the cleaning station (46) so that while it is washed and prepared, there are two additional first containers one of which is intended for the preparation of the product and the other of which is intended for the extraction of the ready product. In this way it is possible to advantageously realize a production plant which essentially operates on a continuous cycle, except for the times of rotation of the frame (16) between the different positions of the first containers supported by it within the working chamber (27).

In the third position or washing position in the cleaning station (46) the first container (17) is advantageously rotated downwards up to an inclination of about sixty degrees with respect to the floor with the introduction opening facing the floor. This is made possible as the first container (17) is installed on the frame (16) by means (Fig. 4, Fig. 5, Fig. 6) of pins (67) which enable its controlled rotation, for example by means of a power-operated system controlled by the control unit (29). The washing water is collected in a specific container for its following filtering and discharge.

At this point, after completing the washing phase, the first container (17) is ready to be taken from the third position or washing position in the cleaning station (46) towards the first position or charging position in the charging and mixing station (44), while another previously charged first container (17) is taken from the first position or charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) towards the second position or extraction position in an extraction station (45) and while an additional first container (17) previously used to extract the product contained in it is taken from the second position or extraction position in an extraction station (45) towards the third position or washing position in the cleaning station (46). The movement of the first containers (17) is preferably carried out simultaneously by means of the frame (16) which rotates the first containers (17) supported by it between the different positions (44, 45, 46) of use of the containers within the chamber (27) of the plant (1). In the washing position it is advantageously provided that when the first container (17) is in a position rotated towards the floor, an automated cleaning brush is introduced into the first container (17) by means of a pneumatic piston which acts on a slide on which an electric motor is fixed which starts the rotation of the brush, the brush and/or the slide being provided with nozzles for spraying at high pressure washing water into the first container (17) which is in the third position or washing position in the cleaning station (46). The phase (C1 ) of addition of water can be a phase of addition of water at room temperature and fully exploit the first heating means (30) of the first container (17), or it can be a phase of addition of water previously heated in the third tank (64) which is provided with second heating means intended to pre-heat the water contained in it before it is fed into the first container (17). In this case the first heating means (30) of the first container (17) can be destined only to the cooking of the mixture. Along with the phase of addition of water or after the phase of addition of water or before the phase of addition of water there can also be the optional addition of oil, said addition being able to occur also in a following phase of the method according to the invention. The phase (C3) of heating advantageously occurs by means of induction heating means or by means of an electric resistor specifically designed to envelop the first container (17), enabling a constant control of heating, the working temperature being managed by the control unit (29) in a completely automated way.

The heating of the first container (17) occurs by first heating means (30) integrated in the first container (17). In general the first heating means (30) are electrical resistors applied circumferentially externally on the walls of the first container (17), externally referring to the volume defined by the first container (17) and intended to contain the ingredients for the production of the mixture. Preferably the first heating means (30) are one or more collar resistors, even more preferably one or more collar resistors with a ceramics or mica coating. The collar resistor circumferentially covers at least one portion of the external wall of the first container (17), external referring to the internal volume defined by the first container (17) and in which the introduction of the ingredients occurs. Obviously one can also provide solutions with heating resistors placed on the bottom of the first container (17) or flame heating means fed by gas or induction heating means. However, the solution with one or more collar resistors is preferable because it allows to heat and cook uniformly the mixture within the first container, also reaching the portions of mixture which are in correspondence of the upper area of the first container and which would be hard to be heated sufficiently by heating means acting in correspondence of the bottom of the first container (17). Furthermore, the solution with one or more collar resistors is preferable because it allows to heat and cook uniformly the mixture within the first container in correspondence of the external side of the side walls of the first container (17) in correspondence of the internal side of which the mixing means (32) operate, preventing the mixture from adhering for a long time in correspondence of the heating zones of the walls of the first container (17) with the risk that the product may get burnt or overcooked. The phase (C5) of optional addition of a given quantity of oil, addition of given quantities of salt, gradual addition of given quantities of one or more flours into the first container (17) can occur by the activation of transport means from tanks of the ingredients.

For example with reference to the flours, the phase (C5) of addition of given quantities of one or more flours into the first container (17) can occur by the activation of transport means (28) from tanks (8, 9) of the flours and through proportioning means preferably above the first container (17). For example the phase (C5) of addition of given quantities of one or more flours can occur by means of the previously described proportioning station (68). As an alternative, the addition of given quantities of one or more flours can also occur manually. For example the transport means (28) can be Archimedean screws or worm screws controlled by the control unit (29) or directly by a plant operator (1). The proportioning of the ingredients can be carried out by means of suitable scales for weighing the ingredients and by means of conveying and transport means, for example in the form of Archimedean screws controlled by a reduction gear controlled by the control unit (29) which transfer the ingredients into the first container (17). The phases (C4) and (C7) related to the activation of the mixing means (32) are phases related to the putting in rotation with a certain speed of a blade especially designed to mix the ingredients in the first container (17) and scrape the walls of the first container (17). The rotation of the blade occurs by means of a reduction gear controlled by a specific frequency converter to modulate the rotational speed of the mixing blade.

The phase (C6) of waiting for the first time of cooking is controlled by the control unit (29) according to the recipe set. However, it is also provided that the cooking times and the mixing speeds can be modified in real time by means of control means, such a supervision screen preferably of the touch screen type. The screen will also display data concerning to the various working phases of the production process as well as possible anomalies in the operation of one or more components. It is provided that in any case each component or each phase can also be managed manually.

The phase (C7) related to the change in the speed of the mixing means (32) from the first mixing speed V1 to a second mixing speed V2 is essentially a phase of reduction of the mixing speed, the second mixing speed V2 being lower than the first mixing speed V1. In fact, once the first set time of mixing and heating T1 has passed, the mixture starts having a homogenous aspect and the slow second mixing speed V2 is inserted for the additional second time T2 preset by the recipe, keeping the heating means (30) on.

For example the first mixing speed V1 can be between a minimum value of 5 turns/minute and a maximum value of 1000 turns/minute, preferably the first mixing speed V1 being between a minimum value of 10 turns/minute and a maximum value of 750 turns/minute. The second mixing speed V2 can be between a minimum value of 100 turns/minute and a maximum value of 3000 turns/minute, preferably the second mixing speed V2 being between a minimum value of 200 turns/minute and a maximum value of 2800 turns/minute. The use of high speeds higher than 1400 turns/minute allows to obtain a centrifugation effect that improves the characteristics of the product. Two different speeds are advantageously used to obtain a homogenous mixing of the ingredients introduced into the first container and to prevent the product, whose density progressively increases as the cooking phase proceeds, from sticking to the walls of the first container (17) getting burnt. Furthermore, the lower second speed is also needed to cause the mixing of the product from the centre of the first container (17) towards the walls of the first container and vice-versa thanks to the particular shape of the mixing means (32) and in particular thanks to the particular shape of the blade (33) made in the form of a palette provided with slots (57) and recesses (58). The second speed V2 which is a high mixing speed, also contributes to obtaining a mixture which has an essentially plastic consistency, meaning that it can be modelled according to a certain shape and, after this operation, it keeps the shape it was given, as it will be explained in the following of the present description with reference to the phase of application of a counter-mould for creating a cavity for depositing the internal stuffing. For example the first set time of mixing and heating T1 can be between 5 minutes and 80 minutes, preferably said first time T1 being between 10 minutes and 50 minutes. For example the second time T2 can be between 1 minute and 40 minutes, preferably said second time T2 being between 2 minutes and 20 minutes.

The phase (D) of distribution of the mixture includes the following phases:

(D1) extraction of the mixing means (32) from the first container (17);

(D2) introduction in the first container (17) of extraction means (47) of the mixture;

(D3) advancement of the extraction means (47) of the mixture within the volume of the first container (17) with extrusion of the mixture through (Fig. 1 , Fig. 2) at least one dispensing device (22, 23);

(D4) advancement of the mixture within an elongate element (75) of the at least one dispensing device (22) with the simultaneous phase of cooling of the mixture within the first dispensing device (22, 23);

(D5) exit of the mixture from the at least one dispensing device (22, 23) towards a second container (18) of a series of second containers (18) wherein the second container (18) is in a first distribution station (11).

The extraction means (47) of the mixture (Fig. 6) form means of application of an extrusion pressure of the mixture and are preferably a plate (41) which is lowered onto the mixture within the first container (17), avoiding contact with air during the operation of extrusion and creating an action of compression so that a pressure for the automatic proportioning is exerted. The proportioning occurs (Fig. 16, Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 21 , Fig. 22) by means of dispensing devices (22, 23) which can also be used for the feeding of further ingredients. For example a first dispensing device (22) may be present in correspondence of a first distribution station (11) and be connected to the first container (17), a second dispensing device (23) may be present in correspondence of a second distribution station (14).

With reference to the phase of extrusion of the cooked mixture from the first container (17), the proportioning of the product occurs (Fig. 16, Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 21 , Fig. 22) by means of dispensing devices (22, 23) suitable for the proportioning of products having a semi- liquid consistency for the food industry. The dispensing device (22, 23) comprises (Fig. 16, Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 21 , Fig. 22) an elongate element (75) which internally comprises at least two concentric conduits of which:

- a first conduit (24) is affected (Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 23, Fig. 24) by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24) according to a direction from the first container (17) towards one of the distribution stations (1 1 , 14) for the distribution of the mixture within the second containers (18);

- a second conduit (26), or a third conduit (71), or a combination of a second conduit (26) and third conduit (71), wherein the second conduit (26) and the third conduit (71) are (Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 23, Fig. 24) affected by a flow of a cooling fluid countercurrent with respect to the advancement direction of the mixture within the first conduit (24).

In a first embodiment (Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20) of the dispensing devices (22, 23) they comprise a second conduit (26) and a third conduit (71 ) of which:

- the second conduit (26) which is affected by the countercurrent flow of a cooling fluid is placed concentrically internally with respect to the first conduit (24) which is affected by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24), the second conduit (26) being obtained internally to the body of the worm screw (76);

- the third conduit (71) which is affected by the countercurrent flow of a cooling fluid is placed concentrically externally with respect to the first conduit (24) which is affected by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24).

In a second embodiment (Fig. 23) of the dispensing devices (22, 23) they comprise only the third conduit (71) affected by the countercurrent flow of a cooling fluid which is placed concentrically externally with respect to the first conduit (24) which is affected by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24).

In a third embodiment (Fig. 24) of the dispensing devices (22, 23) they comprise only the second conduit (26) affected by the countercurrent flow of a cooling fluid which is placed concentrically internally with respect to the first conduit (24) which is affected by the presence of a worm screw (76) which is intended to push the mixture through the first conduit (24), the second conduit (26) being obtained internally to the body of the worm screw (76). In general, therefore, the dispensing devices (22, 23) may comprise a second conduit (26) and/or a third conduit (71) which are (Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 23, Fig. 24) affected by a flow of a cooling fluid countercurrent with respect to the advancement direction of the mixture within the first conduit (24).

The preferred solution of the present invention is that in which the dispensing devices (22, 23) comprise both the second conduit (26) and the third conduit (71) in order to obtain an effective cooling of the mixture transported in the first conduit (24) and to obtain a cooling from a temperature of exit of the mixture from the first cooking container (17) which is a first temperature of about 90-100 centigrade degrees up to a temperature of exit of the mixture from the dispensing device (22, 23) which is a second temperature of about 30-40 centigrade degrees.

Advantageously the solution according to the invention allows to obtain multiple advantageous effects:

- Cooling of the mixture before it is introduced into the second container (18), thus obtaining a more compact mixture thanks to its cooling;

- Compacting of the mixture by a mechanical action exerted by the screw (76) within the first conduit (24);

- Removal of heat from the mixture in such a way as to be able to re-use the heat recovered by the plant in other operating phases of the plant itself, obtaining an important energy saving. In fact, the cooling fluid which is made to circulate within the second conduit (26) and/or the third conduit (71) can be used to transport the heat taken from the mixture after cooking to heat or pre-heat the first container or cooking container (17);

- Reduction of the sizes of the cooling systems downstream of the preparation station (3) with a considerable saving in terms of energy use and of cost of the plant.

The second conduit (26) and the third conduit (71) are insulated with respect to the first conduit (24) in which the mixture to be cooled passes, preventing contaminations of the mixture.

For example the cooling fluid can be water, preferably microfiltered water.

The first conduit (24) is connected to a feeding mouth (83) of the mixture in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the opposite side with respect to that of dispensing of the mixture. The first conduit (24) is connected to an extraction mouth (84) of the mixture in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the side of dispensing of the mixture.

The second conduit (26) is connected to a first feeding inlet (73) of the cooling fluid in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the side of dispensing of the mixture. The second conduit (26) is connected to a first extraction outlet (77) of the cooling fluid in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the opposite side with respect to that of dispensing of the mixture.

The third conduit (71) is connected to a second feeding inlet (72) of the cooling fluid in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the side of dispensing of the mixture. The third conduit (71) is connected to a second extraction outlet (74) of the cooling fluid in correspondence of the side of the elongate element which corresponds to the opposite side with respect to that of dispensing of the mixture.

In a particularly advantageous solution it is provided that (Fig. 25) the plant (1) comprises a pump (86) which is intended to control the flow of cooling fluid towards the dispensing device (22, 23) so that it goes through the second conduit (26) and/or the third conduit (71 ) taking away heat from the mixture which passes through the first conduit (24). The cooling fluid, once it has taken the heat away from the mixture, can be sent to a heat exchanger (85) which cools the cooling fluid and conveys the heat recovered from the fluid and coming from the mixture towards the charging station (44) where the cooking of the following charge of product occurs. In this way the system recovers a large part of the energy remaining in the mixture to use it for the following charge of product to be cooked, with a considerable energy saving.

Advantageously it is provided that the cooling fluid used in the dispensing device (22, 23) can be microfiltered water suitable for food use so that by means of the diverter (87) one can send directly the microfiltered water heated by the passage within the second conduit (26) and/or the third conduit (71) inside the first container (17) of the charging station (44) to use it as water of preparation of the mixture fully exploiting the heat recovered from the mixture within the dispensing device (22, 23).

One can also provide the presence of a temperature sensor which measures the temperature of the mixture coming from the dispensing device (22, 23) so that the control unit (29) can control and adjust the temperature of exit of the mixture acting on one or more between:

- adjustment of the flow rate of the cooling fluid by means of the pump (86);

- adjustment of the rotational speed of the screw (76) by means of the motor (70) optionally provided with a reduction gear (69) in order to slow down or speed up the passage of the mixture in the first conduit (24);

- adjustment of parameters of the heat exchanger (85) to adjust the quantity of heat towards the charging station (44).

The adjustment of the proportion of mixture can be carried out in a precise way controlling by means of the control unit (29) the speed of the screw (76) and the stop time of the second container (18) in the first distribution station (11) or in the second distribution station (14), if present.

The coupling between the first container (17) and the dispensing device (22, 23) in correspondence of the first distribution station (11) or second distribution station (14) in the extraction station (45) can occur by means of coupling means for example in the form of a hooking system of the pneumatic type.

The second containers (18) within which the extrusion of the mixture from the first container (17) occurs can have different capacities according to requirements and the plant (1) can be provided with different types of second containers (18). As a consequence, the preparation recipe will also include the setting of a parameter related to the capacity of the second containers (18) so that the control unit (29) can control the action of the pressure application means to proportion the quantity of mixture which is extruded within the second containers (18) according to their capacity. For example the capacity of the second containers (18) can change in a range from 10 to maximum 1000 grams, smaller or greater quantities being also possible without departing from the domain of the present invention. It will be evident that the solution according to the present invention allows to obtain in a rapid, economical and advantageous way some quantities of finished product which are highly configurable and which can therefore advantageously be quantities corresponding to the consumption of one person only, of two people or of more people according to requirements.

The second containers (18) are preferably containers shaped as a half sphere, even more preferably containers shaped as a half sphere with a food-safe internal coating of the non- sticking type, but one can also provide second containers (18) having a different shape, for example a conical shape.

As an alternative to the previously described second containers (18), one can provide containment means for the mixture having different shapes, such as containment means for the mixture shaped as pans or having other shapes within which the mixture is distributed for example in loaves of mixture. For example one can also provide a distribution of several loaves of mixture parallel to each other placed on a same containment means for the mixture.

In the preferred embodiment of the present invention (Fig. 7, Fig. 8, Fig. 9) the second containers (18) are shaped as a half-spherical hollow (52) which is intended to receive inside it the product or the polenta. Furthermore, the second containers comprise a flat body (49) in correspondence of a central portion of which the hollow (52) for the deposition of the product is obtained. From the body (49) two protrusions (50) develop in radially opposite directions with respect to the centre of the hollow (52), on each of which an eyelet (51) is obtained for the fixing of the second container (18) on a support (48) which is intended to constitute a fixing interface on the guide (21) of the preparation station (3). Preferably the eyelet (51) is provided with a slit (53) and with an opening (54) wherein the opening (54) develops and is connected to the slit (53) constituting an extension of the latter. The opening (54) has an essentially circular shape and the slit (53) has side walls which are spaced from each other by a distance which is smaller than the diameter of the opening (54) in such a way that the fixing of the second container (18) on the support can easily occur (Fig. 7) by means of a locking means (55) which is provided with a pin having a smaller diameter with respect to the distance between the walls of the slit (53) and which is further provided with an essentially circular or polygonal locking head which has such a surface dimension as to be inserted into the opening (54) and has a greater surface dimension than the width of the slit (53). In this way by inserting the openings (54) in correspondence of the heads of the locking means (55), the heads of the locking means (55) pass through the opening (54) and by rotating the second container one will cause the sliding of the slit (53) and the penetration of the pin of the locking means (55) into the slit. In this way the head of the locking means (55) will lock the second container (18) in position because the slit (53) has a smaller width with respect to the dimensions of the head.

Preferably the second container (18) is made of polytetrafluoroethylene or silicone for food use. The phase (E) of stuffing and/or garnishing can be carried out in a first feeding station (12) integrated in one or more of the distribution stations (11 , 14), such as the first feeding station (11) or the second distribution station (14) in correspondence of the dispensing device (22, 23). As an alternative or in combination the phase (E) of stuffing and/or garnishing can be carried out in a second feeding station (13) which is separate with respect to the distribution stations (11 , 14) by means of a proportioning device (25).

In the case of a first feeding station (12) which is separate with respect to the distribution stations (11 , 14) by means of a proportioning device (25)

(E1) activation of first advancement means (15) which are intended for the advancement of said series of second containers (18) from the distribution station (11) through a series of feeding stations (12, 13);

(E2) feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients in correspondence of one or more feeding stations (13);

(E3) optional feeding of at least one portion of mixture with the extrusion of the mixture through a second dispensing device (23) connected to the first container (17);

(E4) optional final feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients in correspondence of one or more feeding stations (13).

The stuffing and/or garnishing can advantageously occur according to two different operating modes. In a first operating mode it can be provided that a first extrusion of mixture is carried out within the second container (18), followed by a feeding of stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients in correspondence of a central zone with respect to the portion of mixture extruded within the second container (18) and finally followed by a second extrusion of mixture within the second container (18) to incorporate the stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients into the mixture. As an alternative, it can be provided that an extrusion of mixture is carried out within the second container (18), followed by the introduction into the mixture extruded in the second container (18) of introduction means of the stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients directly into the volume of mixture extruded in the second container (18).

For example (Fig. 26) the proportioning device (25) which is intended for the proportioning of the stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients can be made (Fig. 16, Fig. 17, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20, Fig. 21 , Fig. 22) in the form of a tubular element (88) within which the screw advancement means (89) rotate, which are intended to perform the advancement of the stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients which are introduced into the tubular element (88) by means of an inlet mouth (90) and which exit through an outlet mouth (91).

In the case of a first feeding station (12) integrated in one or more of the distribution stations (11 , 14) the phase (E) of stuffing and/or garnishing includes the joint or alternate feeding (Fig. 27, Fig. 28, Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31) of mixture and stuffing by means of the nozzle (78). Therefore, one can have phases in which from the nozzle (78) one dispenses only mixture, phases in which from the nozzle (78) one dispenses only stuffing, phases in which from the nozzle (78) one simultaneously dispenses both stuffing and mixture.

In this case the stuffing and/or garnishing occurs with the phase of distribution of the mixture in the second containers (18). For example it can be provided that the dispensing device (22, 23) continuously dispenses the mixture from the first container (17) and that the corresponding feeding station (12) is activated after a given time and for a given period after a first quantity consisting only of the mixture coming from the first container (17) has been dispensed in the first container (18). Afterwards, once a second quantity comprising both mixture and stuffing and/or garnishing has been distributed, one can provide the stop of the corresponding feeding station (12) proceeding with an additional dispensing of a third quantity comprising only mixture coming from the first container (17) in which the third quantity dispensed is without stuffing and/or garnishing. As an alternative, it can be provided that the dispensing device (22, 23) dispenses a first quantity only of mixture coming from the first container (17) and afterwards the feeding of mixture coming from the first container (17) is stopped to proceed with the activation of the corresponding feeding station (12) only which will dispense in the second container (18) a second quantity consisting only of stuffing and/or garnishing without the simultaneous dispensing of mixture from the first container (17). Finally, the deactivation of the corresponding feeding station (12) will be followed by the activation of the dispensing device (22, 23) which will dispense a third quantity comprising only mixture coming from the first container (17), wherein the third quantity dispensed is without stuffing and/or garnishing.

The advancement means (15) can be made in the form of an advancement device provided with guides (21) for the step-by-step guided advancement of the series of the second containers (18) between the feeding stations (12, 13) which are placed after one another along the guides (21).

One can also provide a phase of preliminary feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients in correspondence for example of the first feeding station (12) which occurs before the phase (D) of distribution of the mixture in the second container (18). In this way the bottom of the container will contain a superficial garnishing which will cover the product once the second container (18) has been opened for consumption and its contents overturned for example on a plate.

As an alternative or in combination, it can be provided that there is also the phase (E5) of final feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients before the following phases.

Advantageously it is also provided that, during the phase (E) of stuffing and/or garnishing, one can have:

- a first sub-phase in which, on the portion of mixture previously distributed in the phase (D), the phase of feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients occurs in correspondence of one or more of the feeding stations (12, 13);

- a second sub-phase of feeding of at least one additional portion of mixture.

In this way, advantageously, the ingredients fed in the feeding stations (12, 13) are incorporated in the mixture, that is to say, in the polenta, constituting a "heart" of stuffing inside the product and obtaining a stuffed product. For example one can obtain polenta stuffed with beans, other cheeses such as grated cheese, salty cheese, sauces, mushrooms, etc.

In a different embodiment instead of the truncated spherical or half spherical second containers (18) one can also use conical or frusto-conical second containers (18). Advantageously it can be provided that, after the filling of the second container (18) with the product, the second container (18) is moved in correspondence of a further station where cooling means are lowered into the product, which for example can be made in form of a counter-cone intended to cool the product and take it to a temperature below 0° in a few seconds. In general the cooling can be provided for all the shapes of the second containers, be they half spherical, conical, truncated conical, etc. In general, therefore, it can be provided that the method for the continuous production of a food product according to the present invention comprises a phase (D) which is a phase of distribution of the mixture from the first container (17) to at least one second container (18), preferably to a series of second containers (18), wherein the phase (D) is subdivided into a phase (D') of distribution of the mixture from the first container (17) to at least one second container (18) and into a phase (D") of cooling and moulding of the mixture within the at least one second container (18), said phase (D") of cooling and moulding occurring by means of a cooling counter-mould (82) which is inserted (Fig. 13, Fig. 14) within the volume defined by the second container (18) within which the mixture previously fed into it is. In this way the mixture previously fed into the container is distributed along the wall of the second container and, being cooled, it takes such a consistency as to become structurally self-bearing and self-supporting. The fact that the mixture maintains the shape with the hollow for the deposition of the stuffing inside it is due to the concurrence and to the effect of various factors. In fact, in addition to the action exerted by the cooling induced by means of the counter-mould (82), also other factors contribute to obtaining a mixture able to maintain the shape it is given by the lowering of the counter-mould as well as the shape given by the second container (18), such as the resort to the second mixing speed V2 which is a high speed. In fact, the use of a second mixing speed V2 with a high number of turns per minute contributes to the formation of links within the mixture which would not form otherwise and in this way the consistency of the mixture after said mixing phase at the second speed V2 becomes such as to allow the mixture to be essentially modelled maintaining the shape it is given, such as the shape with the central hollow for the introduction of the stuffing into it. An additional factor which has a positive effect on this aspect, that is to say, on the maintenance of the shape the product is given, is the presence of oil among the ingredients introduced into the first container. In this way the mixture, following the lowering of the counter-mould (82) in the second container (18), maintains a shape with a hollow in which the internal stuffing can occur, optionally followed by a phase of closing of the volume within which the stuffing was deposited by means of a following distribution of mixture or polenta, which, in that case, can also be absent in such a way that, in that case, the base of the finished product (Fig. 15) allows to see the stuffing contained within a sort of bowl formed by the mixture, that is to say, by the polenta. One can also provide solutions in which the plant produces only the so obtained "bowl" of mixture for the following stuffing which occurs separately.

Furthermore, by providing a third phase (E5) of optional final feeding of one or more stuffing and/or garnishing ingredients in correspondence of one or more of the feeding stations (12, 13), one can also provide a superficial finishing ingredient which will not be incorporated in the mixture.

Before the phase (G) of packaging and preferably before the phase (F) of deep-freezing, if present, there is an additional phase of overturning of the food product obtained within the second container (18). The phase of overturning can occur for example providing that the second containers are arranged on a conveyor belt that, after reaching the advancement end, progressively rotates along a circular trajectory getting into a position overturned by 180 degrees with respect to the filling position so that the food product contained in it falls onto an additional underlying conveyor belt, or equivalent transport means such as a fine mesh chain, which carries out the transport towards the additional working phases, such as towards the phase of deep-freezing, the phase of packaging, the phase of sterilization. For example (Fig. 1) the phase of overturning of the food product from the second container (18) onto the conveyor belt may occur in correspondence of the zone of connection between the preparation station (3) and the temperature lowering station (4), if present, or in correspondence of the zone of connection between the preparation station (3) and the packaging station (5).

The temperature lowering station (4) can also be a separate station with respect to a main line comprising the other devices described and reachable by the product by means of deviation lines of the product towards the temperature lowering station and re-addressing lines of the product towards the main line after the passage in the temperature lowering station (4).

As a consequence, in the plant according to the invention one can provide various paths for the production of the product, such as:

- a first path in which the product, after the extraction from the first container (17), passes directly to a packaging station in which the product is fully wrapped up under vacuum in a controlled atmosphere and then it is sent to a sterilization treatment station which for example can be a high pressure sterilization process of the type known as HPP (High Pressure Processing), the product being finally stored in storage cells at 4 centigrade degrees;

- a second path in which the product, after the extraction from the first container (17), passes to a treatment in an oven for 20 minutes at 180 centigrade degrees and then it is sent to the packaging and storage station;

- a third path in which the product, after the extraction from the first container (17), passes to a deep-freezing treatment at -40 centigrade degrees for 30 minutes and then it is sent to the packaging station, the product being finally stored in storage cells at -25 centigrade degrees.

The phase (F) of deep-freezing can be present or can be completely absent. In the second case, the product will advance directly towards the phase (G) of packaging and towards the phase (H) of sterilization, obtaining a fresh and ready-to-use product which will have a shorter storage time with respect to the deep-frozen product but whose organoleptic characteristics will be better. The phase (F) of deep-freezing preferably occurs within a temperature lowering station (4) in which the temperature of the product is lowered to for example between 20 °C and -40 °C. For example the temperature lowering station (4) can be made in the form of a deepfreezing tunnel. The phase (G) of packaging includes the application of a closing film on the second container (18) which closes the opening of introduction of the mixture and of the garnishing and stuffing ingredients. For example one can provide the use of a machine of the type known as "floupak" for the application of films heat-sealed on the edges of the opening of introduction and which operates under vacuum and/or in a controlled atmosphere.

The phase (H) of sterilization can occur for example within the sterilization station (6) for example made in the form of a combined microwave and infrared oven for the sterilization of the bacterial loads, without changing the organoleptic qualities. As an alternative, one can also provide the use of a gas oven. In general one can also provide to reach temperatures above 50°C to create a semi-crunchy finished product. The plant may therefore comprise a sterilization station (6) made in the form of a sterilization oven selected from the group consisting of microwave oven, infrared oven, combined microwave and infrared oven, gas oven, electrical oven.

The product, sealed with a specific protection membrane and closure of cellophane or similar materials, is introduced into the oven which is an oven made up of a conveying chain which makes it continuous and which abates the bacterial loads, if present, providing the product with preservability and duration without adding preservatives.

The product based on one or more flours according to the present invention (Fig. 11 , Fig. 12) is obtained with a shape which is essentially given by the shape of the hollow (52) obtained on the second container (18). For example in the case of an essentially half spherical hollow (52) one will obtain an essentially semi spherical product based on one or more flours (79) made up of the mixture (80) inside which the stuffing (81) is incorporated. In general, therefore, the present invention also relates to a product based on one or more flours made up of a mixture (80) and which includes internally to the mixture (80) a stuffing (81) made with different stuffing ingredients with respect to the ingredients for preparing the mixture (80). In this way, advantageously, the stuffing ingredients are included in the product itself, facilitating its preservation and preventing them from coming out and spreading out with respect to the product in the phases of heating of the product by the user prior to the consumption of the product.

To conclude, the plant made according to the present invention will operate according to a method for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours, wherein said method comprises at least:

- one phase (B) which is a phase of preparation (Fig. 1 , Fig. 10) of ingredients of the product based on one or more flours;

- one phase (C) which is a phase (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients within a first container (17) obtaining a cooked mixture within said first container (17);

- one phase (D) which is a phase (Fig. 6, Fig. 18, Fig. 19, Fig. 20) of distribution of the mixture from the first container (17) to at least one second container (18), preferably to a series of said second containers (18);

wherein said method further comprises at least one phase (E) which is a phase of stuffing or garnishing by distributing one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients within the second container (18) obtaining the product based on one or more flours which is a product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients. The phase (E) can comprise:

- at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) before the feeding into the second container (18) of the mixture from the first container (17);

- at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) after the end of the feeding into the second container (18) of the mixture from the first container (17);

- at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) which is a following phase with respect to a first phase of addition of mixture from the first container (17) in the second container (18), said phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) being followed by a phase of second additional feeding of mixture from the first container (17) into the second container (18), obtaining the final covering of the product with the incorporation of the stuffing in the mixture;

- at least one phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) which is a following phase with respect to one single phase of addition of mixture from the first container (17) in the second container (18), said phase of feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) being a phase of injection of said one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the volume of the mixture previously introduced into the second container (18), so that the stuffing is practically injected directly into the volume of the mixture already introduced into the second container.

The method may comprise (Fig. 1 , Fig. 2) a phase of rotation of a rotating frame (16) supporting at least one pair of first containers (17) between at least two positions of which a first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) in which one of the first containers (17) of said pair of first containers (17) is and a second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which the other of said first containers (17) of the pair of first containers (17) is. The phase (B) of preparation of the ingredients and of introduction of the latter and the phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients within the first container (17) which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) occurs at least partially simultaneously with respect to the phase (D) of distribution of the mixture and with respect to the phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing within the first container (17) which is in the second extraction position in the extraction station (45). The phase of rotation occurs after the end of the phase (D) of distribution of the mixture from the first container (17) with almost total emptying of the mixture contained in the first container (17).

Furthermore, the method may comprise a phase of rotation of the rotating frame (16) which supports at least three first containers (17) between at least three positions of which:

- the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is, similarly to what has been previously described with reference to the solution with two rotation positions;

- the second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which another of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44), similarly to what has been previously described with reference to the solution with two rotation positions;

- a third washing position in the cleaning station (46) in which another of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) and with respect to the first container which is in the second extraction position in the extraction station (45).

The third washing position in the cleaning station (46) is a position in which there is a phase of washing of the first container (17) which is in said third washing position in the cleaning station (46), the phase of washing occurring at least partially simultaneously with respect to the phase (D) of distribution of the mixture and with respect to the phase (E) of stuffing or garnishing from the first container (17) which is in the second extraction position in the extraction station (45). The phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients comprises at least one phase in which mixing means (32) perform a mixing of the ingredients at a first mixing speed V1 and at least one phase in which mixing means (32) perform a mixing of the ingredients at a second mixing speed V2, as previously explained.

Preferably the phase (C) of introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients comprises at least the following phases:

(C1) addition in the first container (17) of a given quantity of water with the optional addition of oil, preferably olive oil, through proportioning means;

(C2) activation of first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C3) heating of the water by means of the first heating means (30) of the first container (17) up to a cooking temperature, said cooking temperature being preferably between 70°C and 100°C according to a recipe for preparing the mixture;

(C4) lowering in the first container (17) of mixing means (32) and activation of the mixing means (32) at a first mixing speed V1 ;

(C5) addition of given quantities of salt and gradual addition of given quantities of one or more flours with the optional addition of oil, preferably olive oil, in the first container (17) until reaching a given overall quantity; (C6) waiting for a first time T1 of cooking according to the recipe for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the first mixing speed V1 and with the simultaneous heating by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17);

(C7) change in the speed of the mixing means (32) from the first mixing speed V1 to a second mixing speed V2;

(C8) waiting for a second time T2 of cooking according to the recipe for preparing the mixture with the simultaneous mixing by the mixing means (32) at the second mixing speed V2 and with the simultaneous heating by the first heating means (30) of the first container (17).

The method may further comprise one or more of the following phases:

- Phase of overturning of the food product from the at least one second container (18) onto a conveyor belt which is intended to transport the food product towards corresponding stations in which further phases of processing of the food product occur;

(F) Phase of deep-freezing of the product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients, said phase of deep-freezing providing a phase of lowering of the temperature of the product to a temperature preferably between 20°C and - 40°C;

(G) Phase of packaging of the product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients, said phase of packaging including the application of a closing film on the second container (18) which closes the opening of introduction of the mixture and of the garnishing or stuffing ingredients or on an alternative casing containing said product;

(H) Phase of sterilization comprising at least one phase of sterilization selected from phase of sterilization by means of microwaves, phase of sterilization by means of infrared rays, combined phase of sterilization by means of microwaves and infrared rays, phase of sterilization by means of heating in a gas or electrical oven.

In the method according to the invention, preferably, at least one of said one or more flours is corn flour, the product based on one or more flours being polenta.

The present invention relates to, in general (Fig. 1 , Fig. 2), a plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours, said plant (1) comprising a first container (17) supported by a frame (16), said first container (17) being intended to receive within it the ingredients of the product based on one or more flours. The plant (1) is provided (Fig. 4) with first heating means (30) which are intended to heat the first container (17) and which are intended to carry out the cooking of the ingredients obtaining a cooked mixture within the first container (17). The plant (1) is provided (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) with mixing means (32) of the mixture and the plant comprises:

- at least one first distribution station (11) which is intended for the distribution of the mixture towards a series of second containers (18) which are intended for the formation of the product based on one or more flours;

- at least one feeding station (12, 13) which is intended for the feeding of one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients into the second container (18) obtaining said product based on one or more flours which is a product based on one or more flours stuffed or garnished with one or more stuffing or garnishing ingredients.

The plant (1) for the continuous or semi-continuous production of a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours preferably works according to a method for the continuous production of a product based on one or more flours as previously described.

The frame (16) is preferably a frame supporting at least one pair of first containers (17), said frame (16) being able to be rotated between at least two positions of which a first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of the pair of first containers (17) is and a second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which the other of said first containers (17) of the pair of first containers (17) is. The first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) is intended for the introduction, mixing and cooking of the ingredients within the first container (17) which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44). The second extraction position in the extraction station (45) is intended for the distribution of the mixture from the first container which is in the second position towards the second container (18).

Even more preferably the frame (16) is a frame supporting at least three of said first containers (17), the frame (16) being able to be rotated between at least three positions of which

- the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) in which one of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is, similarly to what has been described with reference to the solution of frame with at least two rotation positions;

- the second extraction position in the extraction station (45) in which another of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44), similarly to what has been described with reference to the solution of frame with at least two rotation positions;

- a third washing position in the cleaning station (46) in which another of said first containers (17) of the three first containers (17) is with respect to the first container which is in the first charging position in the charging and mixing station (44) and with respect to the first container which is in the second extraction position in the extraction station (45).

The third washing position in the cleaning station (46) is a position in which the first container is washed by means of washing means of the plant (1), as previously explained.

The plant (1) comprises a first distribution station (11) which preferably comprises extraction means (47) of the mixture from the first container (17), said extraction means (47) of the mixture being means of application of an extrusion pressure of the mixture made in the form of a plate (41) which is lowered on the mixture within the first container (17).

The plant, for the purpose of operating according to continuous or semi-continuous production modes, comprises a series of second containers (18), wherein the second containers (18) are movable between one or more distribution stations (1 1 , 14), one or more feeding stations (13) along at least one guide (21) which is provided with advancement means of the series of the second containers (18).

In the plant according to the invention, the first distribution station (11 ) comprises at least one dispensing device (22, 23) for the distribution of the mixture towards the second containers (18). The at least one dispensing device (22, 23) and the first feeding station (12) are connected (Fig. 16, Fig. 27, Fig. 28, Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31) to a common distribution nozzle (78) for the mixture and for the stuffing or garnishing ingredients. The nozzle (78) comprises (Fig. 16, Fig. 27, Fig. 28, Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31) an internally hollow body (97) delimiting a distribution space (98) into which the mixture is fed by means of at least one pipe (62, 96). The body (97) has a first channel (92) in flow communication with the distribution space (98) which is intended for the dispensing of the mixture. The first channel (92) is internally crossed by at least one additional channel (93, 94, 95) which is placed internally and essentially centrally with respect to the first channel (92) and which is intended for the dispensing of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients. Preferably the first channel (92) is circular and the additional channel (93, 94, 95) is circular according to a configuration in which the additional channel (93, 94, 95) is placed internally concentrically (Fig. 29) with respect to the first channel (92).

One can provide configurations in which the first channel (92) is internally crossed by more than one of the additional channels (93, 94, 95) of distribution of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients. For example one can provide a configuration with (Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31 ) at least one second channel (93) and one third channel (94) and optionally a fourth channel (95) which are placed internally and essentially centrally with respect the first channel (92) and which are intended for the dispensing of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients. By this solution one can advantageously connect the various additional channels (93, 94, 95) to different feeding stations (12) of the stuffing ingredients in order to be able to provide at the centre of the mixture dispensed in the first channel (92) several different stuffing ingredients and to individually control their dispensing times and quantities. Advantageously the described configuration allows to continuously dispense the mixture from the first channel (92) and at the same time to temporarily enable or disable the dispensing of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients by means of the additional channels (93, 94, 95) ensuring that they will always be contained in the mixture. This also allows to speed up the operations of production of the food product. The additional channels (93, 94, 95) may be (Fig. 29) circular and arranged concentrically inside one another, according to a configuration in which the additional channels (93, 94, 95) have progressively decreasing external diameters from the outside to the inside of the concentric configuration and leaving a circular rim between one channel and the following one in the sequence of concentric channels for the passage of the stuffing or garnishing ingredients. As an alternative one can also provide configurations (Fig. 30) in which the additional channels (93, 94, 95) are adjacent to one another.

Preferably the nozzle (78) comprises (Fig. 16, Fig. 27, Fig. 28, Fig. 29, Fig. 30, Fig. 31 ) an internally hollow body (97) delimiting a distribution space (98) into which the mixture is fed by means of a first pipe (62) and of a second pipe (96) placed on reciprocally opposite sides of the body (97). Said configuration is advantageous because the mixtures in question are quite pasty and for the purpose of ensuring that the stuffing or garnishing ingredients are effectively contained in the mixture it is necessary to ensure that the mixture is uniformly distributed in the distribution space (98) in order to completely surround the additional channels (93, 94, 95) contained within the first channel (92) through which the mixture exits. In fact, by feeding the mixture from two reciprocally opposite feeding points one can ensure the complete uniform filling of the distribution space (98) and as a consequence the complete incorporation of the stuffing ingredients in the mixture.

The present invention also relates to a food product consisting of polenta based on one or more flours made up of a mixture (80) and obtained by means of a method for the continuous production of a product based on one or more flours as previously described.

The product is preferably polenta made up of the mixture (80) and internally stuffed with a stuffing (81) made up of one or more of said stuffing ingredients.

The description of the present invention has been made with reference to the enclosed figures in a preferred embodiment, but it is evident that many possible changes, modifications and variations will be immediately clear to those skilled in the art in the light of the previous description. Thus, it must be underlined that the invention is not limited to the previous description, but it includes all the changes, modifications and variations in accordance with the appended claims.

Nomenclature used

With reference to the identification numbers in the enclosed figures, the following nomenclature has been used: 1. Plant

2. Mixing and cooking station

3. Preparation station

4. Temperature lowering station

5. Packaging station

6. Sterilization station

7. Storage station

8. First tank

9. Second tank

10. Deposition station

11. First distribution station

12. First feeding station

13. Second feeding station

14. Second distribution station

15. First advancement means

16. Frame

17. First container or cooking container

18. Second container or packaging container

19. Taking station

20. Base

21. Guide

22. First dispensing device

23. Second dispensing device

24. First conduit

25. Proportioning device

26. Second conduit

27. Chamber

28. Transport means 29. Control unit

30. First heating means

31. Cover

32. Mixing means

33. Blade

34. Scraper

35. Rod

36. Motor

37. Arm

38. First portion

39. Second portion

40. Hinge

41. Pressing plate

42. Connection

43. Guides

44. Charging station

45. Extraction station

46. Cleaning station

47. Extraction means

48. Support

49. Body

50. Protrusion

51. Eyelet

52. Hollow

53. Slit

54. Opening

55. Locking means

56. Probe 57. Slot

58. Recess

59. First reservoir

60. Second reservoir

61. Third reservoir

62. First pipe

63. Control lines

64. Third tank

65. Pump

66. Valve

67. Pin

68. Proportioning station

69. Reduction gear

70. Motor

71. Third conduit

72. Second inlet

73. First inlet

74. Second outlet

75. Elongate element

76. Worm screw

77. First outlet

78. Nozzle

79. Product based on one or more flours

80. Mixture

81. Stuffing

82. Counter-mould

83. Feeding mouth

84. Extraction mouth 85. Heat exchanger

86. Pump

87. Diverter

88. Tubular element

89. Screw advancement means

90. Inlet mouth

91. Outlet mouth

92. First channel

93. Second channel

94. Third channel

95. Fourth channel

96. Second pipe

97. Body

98. Distribution space

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