Can you believe that in the 16th century, corn was used on the high seas to hide gold and treasures from pirates? But then famine set in and people ate it. Soon polenta became known as Italy’s beloved peasant food. Fast-forward five centuries and you have a dish that is served in top restaurants worldwide.
Read on to get ideas for using inexpensive cornmeal to make polenta for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Select Textural Preference
Polenta lends itself to textural diversity. In traditional form it is soft and spongy. With creamy polenta your palate is coated in richness. And yet, a crispy polenta cake is light and airy with a pleasant crunch. You can even grill the crispy version! No matter your desired outcome, polenta starts out the same: one part corn meal to four parts water, plus a pinch of salt.
Choose Your Grind
Although coarsely ground cornmeal is more prevalent, fine meal makes finer mush. When I make traditional polenta or creamy polenta—the cousin to grits—I like a little tooth to my farina, so I use coarse corn meal. When crispy cakes are the desired outcome, center stage goes to the fine grind.
Polenta can be made on the stovetop in traditional fashion by whisking cornmeal into salted water and stirring continually until a spoon stands up in the mush. Easier still, combine the meal, water, and salt in a bowl and cook in a microwave oven. You’ll realize that prepared polenta from a commercial store saves no time, and you can feed six times as many friends if you begin with organic corn meal.
Polenta Plays Porridge
Polenta for breakfast? This non-glutinous, vegan grain is a great alternative to cereals. Stir in dried fruits and nuts, or butter and syrup, for a sweet beginning to your day. If savory’s your style, top with some poached eggs for a power boost that will bring you through the day.
The Perfect Accompaniment
Creative options are endless for polenta, and there are many traditional pairings. Polenta has a history as accompanist to mushroom ragout, ratatouille, black kale, white beans, and even shaved parmesan cheese over tomato sauce. For card-carrying carnivores, top polenta with any kind of braised meat: osso bucco, braised lamb shank, short ribs, or for a quick meal, sautéed sausages.
Try out polenta recipes from our slideshow!
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