How to Cook Polenta
The term polenta refers both to Italian yellow or white cornmeal and to the cooked mixture made from it. Although polenta, or cornmeal mush, is usually thought of as a northern Italian dish, it is served in southern Italy as well. Immediately after cooking in liquid, polenta is soft and creamy. It can be served as is, usually as a bed for stews or sauces. Or it can be allowed to firm up in a shallow pan or bowl and then cut into slices. These firm pieces can be grilled or fried and used in place of bread for crostini. The pieces can also be layered and baked with a meat or vegetable sauce and cheese.
When purchasing polenta pay attention to the coarseness of the flour. Coarse grinds result in a firmer and coarser polenta. A finer cornmeal is more suitable for a creamy and soft polenta. Besides the classic yellow cornmeal flour, a white cornmeal variety is available. Made from peeled corn kernels, polenta bianca cooks faster and is used for sweet specialties. There is also a quick cooking polenta that is made form precooked cornmeal that can be on the table in 5 minutes.
(Makes about 4 cups)
7 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1-2/3 cups coarse-grained Italian yellow cornmeal
Bring the water to a boil in an 8 to 10 cup saucepan (preferably stainless steel
or copper) over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Add the cornmeal in a very
thin stream. You should be able to see the individual grains spilling into the
pot. As you are adding the cornmeal, stir it with a whisk, and make sure the
water is always boiling. When you have added all the cornmeal, begin to stir it
with a wooden spoon. Polenta pops like lava when boiling, so exercise
caution! Stir continuously, bringing the mixture up from the bottom of the pot
and loosening it from the sides. The cornmeal becomes polenta in 35-45
minutes, when it forms a mass that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the
Moisten the inside of a bowl with cold water. Turn the polenta out of the pot
into the bowl. After 5 to 10 minutes, turn the bowl over onto a wooden board or
large platter. If serving it soft and hot, serve it at once.
For a creamier polenta:
Prepare the polenta as above but add about 1 cup of heavy cream when the
polenta is almost done and continue stirring to incorporate it and then season
with freshly grated nutmeg.
For a firm polenta:
If you are going to allow the polenta to become completely cool and firm and
later slice it, do not put the hot polenta into a bowl. Spread it on a wooden
board or baking sheet to a thickness of about 3 inches or shape into a loaf.
When completely cool you can cut it into slices. Fry the slices in butter or
oil, brush them with oil and grill or broil them, or top with cheese and bake until
If you are planning to slice polenta and grill, bake, or fry it, you must make it at
least an hour in advance.
Polenta will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Keep it whole and wrap it
with foil or plastic wrap.
Serving Polenta Hot and Soft
* With butter and grated Parmesan cheese melted into it, it can be eaten
* Soften a creamy Gorgonzola cheese to room temperature and blend it into a
hot, very soft polenta.
* Polenta can provide a bed for shrimp or other seafood that has been sautéed
with a little garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
* Polenta is a wonderful side dish with any stewed, braised or roasted meat or
poultry. It is desirable to have enough juices available from the meat to lightly
sauce the polenta.
When Polenta is Allowed to Cool
* It can be sliced and grilled and served alongside a fried mixture of seafood,
meat, or poultry and vegetables.
* It can be sliced and baked with a variety of fillings, similar to lasagne
* It can be cut into shapes and fried crisp in vegetable oil and served with
salads, alongside meats or before dinner with drinks.
Many Italians consider using instant polenta from a box to be pure heresy.
While it may not be your best choice for creamy polenta served with butter or
cheese, it is an acceptable solution for polenta that will be cooked a second
time; either fried, grilled or baked and served with a sauce or other ingredients.
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 (13 ounce) package instant polenta
Bring the water to a vigorous boil, add the salt, and let the polenta fall into the
pot in a steady stream, while whisking. Cook, stirring continuously with a
wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until the mixture comes together but is still
soft. Pour onto an oiled baking sheet and spread it into a smooth flat
rectangle. Allow to cool until firm, about 10 minutes.
Polenta can be used as bread when it comes to creating crostini, those little
appetizers that are the prefect base for your choice of toppings. This recipe
makes about 25 pieces.
1 Recipe Basic Polenta or Quick-Cooking Polenta
Begin by making polenta and spreading it into a flat rectangle about 1/2 inch
thick. Allow it to cool until firm. Cut the polenta into 2-inch squares. Brush
them lightly with olive oil. Then choose one of the following methods.
To grill: Grill them until lightly crisp, about 4 minutes each side
To broil: Broil them 4 to 6 inches from the heat for 4-5 minutes each side
To deep-fry: Fry them in 1/2-inch vegetable oil over medium heat until golden
brown on both sides
To bake: Bake them at 400 degrees F for about 8-10 minutes.
More Information about Polenta:
Pasta had become so universally accepted as the national dish of Italy that it
is hard to believe that perhaps just 2 generations ago, pasta was foreign to
certain regions of Italy. In the Veneto, Friuli, and Lombardy regions, it was
polenta that was the backbone of culinary culture. Preparing polenta was
quite a ritual. The copper kettle, or paiolo, was kept hanging on a hook in the
center of the fireplace. The hearth would often accommodate a bench on
which the family sat as they watched the stream of cornmeal being poured in
the boiling water. Then they waited for the constant stirring of the cook to
transform it into a meal. The cornmeal became polenta in 35-45 minutes.
Polenta is flexible and forgiving. You must guard against lumps but it is
actually difficult to ruin polenta. You will see cooking times that vary from 30
to 45 minutes. The freshness of the polenta, the type of corn from which it is
made, the coarseness of the grain, its moisture content, and how it has been
stored all influence how long polenta will take to become tender. You cannot
rush the process by turning up the heat. The simple way to check if it is done
is to taste it. The grains should be tender with a distinct flavor of corn and it
should be the proper consistency, neither too thick nor too thin.
Polenta is so versatile that it can be eaten as an antipasto, an entrée, or as a
side dish. To serve soft and creamy polenta, the consistency should be that of
a thick soup. To serve it as a side dish, you want it slightly thicker. Polenta
that will be cooled and cut into shapes requires a longer cooking time.
In Italy, the best polenta is made from cornmeal that is freshly ground within
the 2-3 week harvest period. Italian long-cooking polenta has a fine, even
grind, that has a better flavor and cooks to a smoother, more even consistency
than American cornmeal or quick-cooking varieties.
YOU DO NOT NEED THIS POT
BUT YOU MAY LOVE IT
Here's a great gift for the serious cook who's
been known to stand for 30 minutes stirring a
mass of polenta in any old pot or pan. This
polished, unlined copper pot is designed to
cook polenta quickly and evenly. Copper
provides exceptional heat conductivity to
ensure even cooking no matter what the
creation. The pot's flared shape allows a
wooden paddle to scrape the bottom and
sides cleanly so polenta doesn't stick and
scorch. A gorgeous pot to display!
Wooden spoons are inexpensive, usually less
than $10 each, and among the most used
items in your kitchen. They're sturdy enough
to mix heavy dough, safe for nonstick
cookware, and the right choice for stirring hot
dishes because they don't conduct heat. To
keep your wooden spoons in top shape, wash
them by hand and dry them before storing in a
DIFFERENT TYPES OF
many to be the most
authentic guide to
Italian food ever
written in the US