How to Make Polenta

Dish up soft and creamy polenta right from the saucepan, or spread it in a pan, chill it, and slice. Either way, it's a tasty addition to a menu or recipe.


Definition

Grilled Polenta with Mushrooms

Polenta hails from Northern Italy and is basically a cornmeal porridge. In America, it is also called cornmeal mush. What's especially enticing about this humble, three-ingredient dish is its flexibility. You can substitute broth, or a mix of broth and white wine, for the cold water and salt. To prepare polenta for breakfast or dessert, consider using milk instead of water. Cooled until firm, polenta can be sliced or cut into designs and pan-fried until brown and slightly crisp.

Polenta Recipes to Try:

Grilled Polenta with Mushrooms

Baked Polenta with Spicy Sausage and Mushrooms

Polenta with Eggs and Zucchini

The Cornmeal

Preparing the Cornmeal

While any kind of cornmeal will work, coarse ground cornmeal gives this dish the best texture. Look for cornmeal labeled "polenta" or "coarse ground" at the grocery store or a specialty market. Cornmeal also comes in both white and yellow styles. Either can be used, but yellow is the more traditional and more attractive choice. If you use regular cornmeal, you may need to increase the water in the saucepan and decrease the cooking time, depending on the recipe.

Creamy Polenta Recipe

Adding the Cornmeal Mixture to Boiling Water

1. Pour 2-1/2 cups water into a medium saucepan. Bring the water to boiling over medium-high heat.

Tip: If using regular cornmeal instead of coarse ground, increase the water in the saucepan to 2-3/4 cups. Also, reduce the cooking time to 10 to 15 minutes after the mixture boils in Step 4.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal and 1 teaspoon salt. Use a wire whisk to stir in 1 cup cold water. Combining some cold water with the cornmeal mixture helps keep the cornmeal from clumping when added to the hot water.

3. Slowly and carefully add the cornmeal mixture to the boiling water, stirring constantly. The continual stirring helps the cornmeal mixture dissolve smoothly in the boiling water without clumping.

Cooking the Cornmeal

4. Cook and stir until the mixture returns to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the mixture is very thick and soft. During the cooking time, the cornmeal will soak up the water and become thick. It is important that you adjust the heat as needed to maintain a slow boil, and stir frequently to keep the mixture from scorching.

Tip: Use care not to get too close to the pan, because the hot mixture can splatter as it thickens.

Separate into Individual Servings

5. At this point, you are ready to separate the polenta into bowls and serve as a side dish on its own or as a base for a sauce. Or you can season it with the stir-in suggestions below or your own favorite ingredients.

Stir-Ins:

  • Decrease the salt by half and, after cooking, stir in 1/2 cup (2 ounces) of your favorite cheese, such as shredded Parmesan, Fontina, cheddar, or provolone, or crumbled feta or goat cheese.
  • Decrease the salt by half and, after cooking, stir in 2 tablespoons salted butter or finely chopped prosciutto, ham, or cooked bacon.
  • After cooking, stir in 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil or Italian parsley or 1 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano or thyme.

Polenta Cakes

Round Polenta Cakes

1. Prepare the soft cornmeal as directed until cooked. Carefully pour into a 9-inch pie plate, spreading into an even layer. Let stand, uncovered, for 30 minutes to cool.

2. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until firm.

3. To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the polenta and bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack for 5 minutes. This gives it time to firm up a bit and slice better.

4. With a sharp knife, cut polenta into six wedges to serve. Or use a cookie or biscuit cutter to cut polenta into shapes.

Fried Polenta

1. Prepare soft polenta as directed until cooked. Carefully pour polenta into a 7-1/2x3-1/2x2-inch or 8x4x2-inch loaf pan. Let it stand, uncovered, for 30 minutes to cool.

2. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for 4 hours or overnight.

3. Uncover and run a thin metal spatula around the edges of the pan. Remove the loaf from the pan and use a sharp knife to cut it crosswise into 12 slices.

4. To pan-fry, in a large skillet or on a griddle heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook half of the slices for 16 to 20 minutes or until browned and crisp, turning once halfway through cooking.

5. Repeat with remaining slices, adding 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet before frying.


How to Make Polenta
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