Polenta

Polenta
Polenta can be eaten plain with a little butter, substituted for baked potatoes and bread, or smothered in favorite sauces as a main meal.

Polenta refers to both dry Italian cornmeal and the mush that results from adding liquid and then boiling. Consistency for proper polenta will vary from soupy or pudding-like to firm cakes that are fried, grilled, and baked. Polenta is often compared to grits and cornmeal mush, which are southern U.S. fare, and is the same as Romania’s mamaliga.

It was once the staple of Europe’s poorest classes, but now can be found on many upscale restaurant menus. In many parts of Italy, polenta is served at every meal as well as for snacking and desserts.

Varieties

• Polenta is available as coarse, medium, and fine grind. Coarse-ground makes thicker, firmer cakes and fine will produce a soupy mush. Medium works for either.

• An instant version can be prepared in about ten minutes.

• Pre-cooked tubes and squares are ready to slice and heat.

Storage Tips

• Store dried meal for two years or longer. Use an airtight container and place in a cool, dry spot.

• Refrigerate pre-cooked, or ready-to-use, polenta and use within two months. After opening, cook within a few days.

Usage Tips

• When cooking cornmeal, add salt and other ingredients such as butter and cheese to the water first for more even distribution. “Wet” polenta refers to the mush that is eaten hot from the stovetop.

• Polenta continues to thicken as it cools. Let rest about five minutes if serving “wet,” or cook ahead of time and allow to cool into cake form. Slice or cut into squares and it is ready for frying and baking. Layer slices with cheese in between or top with mushrooms and fresh herbs.

• Traditional polentas (and many cooks) call for constant stirring, often for up to an hour. Modern cookware allows for an occasional stir and even less attention in a double boiler. It does require some turning and mixing so the sides and bottoms do not finish cooking before the middle.

• Fine grind tends to lump when added to hot liquid. Decrease lumping by dissolving a portion of the polenta in cold water. Cover and boil for about ten minutes. Follow with the remaining cornmeal and stir continuously.

• A longer cooking time will bring out an intense corn taste.

Substitution Tips

• Any cornmeal in equal amounts.


Try one of our favorite polenta recipes:
Fontina Polenta
Corn and Tomato Polenta
Confetti Polenta Cups


Suggested Pairings

Beans, beef, c

Related Recipes

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by BigOven editorial team
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