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Culinary Arts

Easy Creamy Polenta Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Jan 25, 2019 • 4 min read

At once a comfort food and an elegant template on which to experiment with flavors, polenta is a versatile side dish that is easy to master.

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What Is Polenta?

Polenta is a porridge made of coarse or medium-ground cornmeal used in Northern Italian cooking. Some varieties include the addition of ground buckwheat or ground rice. A coarse ground polenta yields a thicker mixture that is best for frying and baking while a medium ground polenta yields a creamy texture, which is great with stews or slow roasted meats, like pot roast.

What Is a Quick and Easy Way to Make Polenta?

Traditionally, polenta is made from mixing cornmeal into boiling water and stirring constantly, for around 30 to 45 minutes. Today, there are many different kinds of polenta, including quick cooking polenta and pre-cooked polenta in a tube.

What Is the Ratio of Polenta to Water?

The best ratio of polenta to water is 4:1, or 4 parts cold water to 1 part polenta. Traditional polenta requires four times the amount of water to polenta, as well as constant stirring, to prevent clumping or sticking.

Is Polenta Good or Bad For You?

Plain polenta is a wonderful alternative side dish to simple carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, or white rice. It also has a wealth of other pros:

  • Complex carbohydrates are better than simple carbohydrates. Corn is made of complex carbohydrates. Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates don’t cause spikes in your blood sugar.
  • Corn is wheat and gluten-free. Which means it’s safe for celiacs and a variety of other diets.
  • And it’s packed with fiber, protein, and vitamin A. Three components that lead to feeling sated without overeating.

However, polenta’s health benefits can diminish with the addition of indulgent ingredients. Things like too much butter, salt, or gorgonzola which can turn polenta into a fairly fatty and caloric side dish (though very delicious).

What Is the Difference Between Polenta and Cornmeal?

Polenta and cornmeal are not exactly the same, though they are not exactly different either.

  • Cornmeal is an ingredient. Cornmeal is made from ground corn. It is often used in baking. It is finely ground using steel.
  • Polenta is a dish. Polenta is typically made from ground corn, specifically the type of corn cultivated in Italy called otto file. Otto file is ground using stone, which retains more of the husk and the nutrients.

What Is the Difference Between Polenta and Grits?

While both polenta and grits are made of ground cornmeal, there are a few key differences: The main differences between the two are the types of corn used and the grind of the cornmeal.

  • Place of origin. Polenta originated in Northern Italy while grits hail from the Southern United States.
  • Type of corn. Grits are made using a white corn (hominy) which are a finer grind. Polenta is made with Italian otto file corn, which is deep yellow in color and traditionally a coarser grind.
  • Taste and texture. Hominy grits produce a texture akin to a cornmeal mush. Polenta’s coarse grind produces something that is firm yet creamy or, when left to cool, can be sliced like a cake.
Polenta cooked and as a grain

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Recipe: Easy Creamy Polenta Recipe

Ingredient Checklist

Total 45 min | Cook 30 min | Prep 15 min | Serves 4

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  1. Add salt to water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Once the water is boiling, slowly whisk the polenta in, pouring at a constant stream.
  3. Continue whisking over high heat until all of the polenta is incorporated and it has reached a thick enough consistency that it does not sink to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low temperature.
  5. Check on the polenta every 8 to 10 minutes, giving it a few vigorous stirs with a wooden spoon, ensuring that you scrape the sides, bottom, and corners of the pan to prevent any sticking or burning.
  6. For a creamy, soft polenta, cook for about 30 minutes. For a firmer polenta, cook for about 45 minutes.

Six Easy Ways to Make Extra Perfect Polenta

  1. Add fat. A simple way to add fat and flavor to your polenta is to stir in about four tablespoons butter. You can also add olive oil instead of, or in addition to, butter.
  2. Season. Of course, adding black pepper, in addition to butter or olive oil, adds a simple flavor boost to your already delicious polenta.
  3. Get cheesy. Cheese is another great addition to your polenta. With butter, you can add parmesan cheese, pecorino romano, or even gorgonzola or taleggio cheese for a super creamy texture.
  4. Swap in chicken broth. A traditional method of making polenta is to replace the water with chicken stock. Use the same amount of chicken stock as you would water (four times the amount of liquid to polenta).
  5. Spice it up. For a spicier polenta, you can sautée a couple of garlic cloves and red pepper flakes in oil before adding water to the pan.
  6. Make it a meal. Polenta can be a side dish, or you can add pretty much anything you would add on top of pasta to a polenta like a bolognese sauce. You can add sauteed vegetables like kale or mushrooms on top of polenta. Polenta is also great with stewed meats, like osso buco, an Italian stewed oxtail, or pot roast.