Polenta is essentially a slowly cooked porridge Italian porridge. Every culture has some variation on porridge—Scotland has oats, Ethiopia uses teff, and Peru cooks amaranth. Porridge has always been the food of the masses.
Take whatever grain dominates the culture and simply add water and boil. What you have is a very affordable meal that can nourish your family through the hard times. In Italy, polenta simply meant porridge and was made from a variety of ingredients, including chestnut flour and ground buckwheat.
It wasn’t until the mid 15th century that corn came into play as an ingredient for polenta. Once it was discovered in the New World, however, corn quickly became a favorite ingredient in polenta. Polenta is a versatile dish that can be sweetened for breakfast, fried for lunch or topped with savory sauces for dinner.
To make polenta a dish everyone can enjoy with as little fuss as possible, here are some simple steps to take you from cornmeal to gooey (or crunchy) polenta goodness.
1. Follow the basic recipe belowBasic Italian Polenta
2. Stir regularly, about every five minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan. We find a rubber spatula works well. In the beginning, you’ll want to stir almost constantly while the mixture cools to a simmer. After the first few minutes, you can stand back and let it simmer, stirring periodically.
3. To increase the overall flavor of your polenta use vegetable or chicken stock in place of water. Add chili flakes, fresh basil or chopped sun dried tomatoes to give your polenta extra flair.
4. Fried polenta is decadent and makes a great appetizer. For best results, polenta should set overnight before being fried. If overnight isn’t an option, a few hours in the fridge will help. Pour your cooked polenta into a pan of your choosing (we like loaf pans) and refrigerate overnight. When ready to fry, invert the pan onto a cutting board and give it a good smack. The polenta should unmold and be easy to cut into the shapes you want. Fry in a couple inches of hot oil over medium-high heat, turning once.
5. If you want crispy polenta without the frying, you can bake it. Bake pieces at 400°F for 15-20 minutes a side. They’ll come out crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
We like polenta every which way, but here are some of our favorite ways to indulge in this hearty dish:
1. Warm and gooey topped with parmesan.
2. Fried topped with a good red sauce.
3. Baked or fried topped with refried beans, sautéed bell peppers and onions, cheddar cheese and guacamole.
4. Warm and gooey topped with lightly cooked cherry tomatoes, parmesan cheese and a dash of honey—trust us, it’s awesome!
We hope you’ll give polenta a whirl and find your own favorite way to cook this wonderful dish. Traditionally, polenta is coarsely ground with most of the corn germ removed. If you want a whole grain version- simply use our coarsely ground cornmeal!
BASIC ITALIAN POLENTA
To your good health!
- 6 cups Water
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- 2 cups Corn Grits-Polenta
- 3 Tb Butter
Grate or shred 1/2 cup cheese such as Parmesan, Romano, Fontina or Monterey Jack for topping.
Sauce: Any meat or tomato sauce that is intended to spoon onto pasta.
In a large, deep pan over high heat bring water and sea salt to a boil; gradually stir in polenta. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until mixture is very thick (about 30 minutes); use a long-handled spoon because mixture pops and bubbles and can burn.
Stir in butter, if you wish, and more salt if needed.
Oil a deep medium sized bowl, spoon polenta into bowl and let set for 10 minutes. Invert onto a flat plate. Mixture will unmold and hold its shape. Cut polenta into thick slices and serve hot. Top with your favorite tomato sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Makes 6 Servings.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION Serving Size: 1 Serving (59g)
Calories 220, Calories from Fat 50, Total Fat 6g, Saturated Fat 3.5g, Cholesterol 15mg, Sodium 65mg, Total Carbohydrates 40g, Dietary Fiber 1g, Sugars 0g, Protein 4g