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Creamy Polenta: The Ultimate Italian Comfort Food

Easy, Creamy Homemade Polenta Recipe

Discover the secrets to making silky-smooth polenta that will transport your taste buds straight to Northern Italy. This foolproof recipe debunks common myths and delivers restaurant-quality results every time.

Polenta is more than just cornmeal mush – it’s a versatile canvas for flavors that can be served soft and creamy or cooled, sliced, and grilled to perfection. Master this staple of Italian cuisine with our expert tips and techniques.

Demystifying Polenta: What You Need to Know

Polenta’s history stretches back to ancient times, evolving from a humble peasant food to a beloved Italian classic. Today’s polenta is made from corn, but don’t be fooled by fancy packaging – any medium or coarse cornmeal will do the trick.

The key to perfect polenta lies in two crucial factors: the right liquid-to-cornmeal ratio and proper hydration. Forget old wives’ tales about wooden spoons and constant stirring – we’ll show you what really matters for creamy, lump-free results.

Choosing Your Polenta Ingredients

The Liquid Base

While traditionalists swear by water, you have options:

  • Water: Lets the pure corn flavor shine through
  • Milk: Creates an ultra-rich, indulgent polenta
  • Chicken or vegetable stock: Infuses depth of flavor

Our preference? Water. It yields a lighter polenta that won’t leave you feeling weighed down, while still achieving that coveted creamy texture.

The Perfect Ratio

The secret to properly hydrated polenta is using enough liquid. We recommend a 5:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal by volume. This ensures your polenta is never gritty or undercooked.

Polenta Perfection: Cooking Methods Compared

Stovetop Method: Our Top Choice

The classic stovetop method gives you the most control and consistently great results. Plus, we’ve got a time-saving trick up our sleeves!

Oven Method

While it works, the oven method can lead to an unappealing skin on top of your polenta and still requires occasional stirring. Not much time saved here.

Double-Boiler Method

This gentle cooking technique doesn’t offer significant advantages and actually takes longer than stovetop cooking.

Microwave Method

In a pinch, you can make polenta in the microwave. It’s quick but requires a very large microwave-safe container to prevent boil-overs. We prefer the classic stovetop method for the best texture and control.

Time-Saving Tip: The Presoak Method

Want to cut your cooking time in half? Try presoaking your cornmeal in its liquid for several hours before cooking. This simple step hydrates the cornmeal, dramatically reducing stovetop time from an hour to just 30 minutes!

Smooth and Creamy Polenta Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 cups (1.2L) water, milk, or chicken stock or vegetable stock (see notes)
  • 1 cup (5 ounces; 140g) medium or coarse cornmeal/polenta (see notes)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30g) unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil, plus more oil to sear or grill, if desired
  • Accompaniments, as desired

Directions

  1. For the time-saving presoak method: Combine water and cornmeal in a large bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. When ready to cook, transfer the mixture to a large saucepan and proceed to step 3.
  2. For the standard method: Pour your chosen liquid into a large saucepan over high heat. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, no need to wait for the liquid to boil.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it starts to thicken and sputter, reduce the heat immediately. Continue cooking, stirring often with a spoon or silicone spatula. Scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. Cook until the polenta is thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan (about 30 minutes for presoaked cornmeal, 50 minutes for dry). Season with salt to taste.
  4. Add butter or olive oil and stir vigorously. The polenta will become gloriously glossy. For a super-smooth texture, beat out any lumps with a whisk. If it’s too thick, whisk in a splash of water, stock, or milk until you reach your desired consistency.
  5. Serve immediately with your favorite toppings, or follow the next steps to create crispy polenta cakes.
  6. For crispy polenta cakes: Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Spread the hot polenta evenly, then cover with parchment or plastic wrap to smooth the surface. Wrap the pan well and refrigerate until completely set (at least 5 hours or overnight).
  7. Once chilled, use a thin spatula to loosen the polenta. Invert onto a cutting board and slice into your desired shapes – squares, triangles, or circles.
  8. To pan-sear: Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add oil and when shimmering, carefully place polenta pieces. Cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and crispy. For grilling: Preheat your grill to high heat. Clean and oil the grates, then grill the polenta for about 3 minutes per side until nicely charred.
  9. Serve your crispy polenta cakes with your favorite toppings. Try a dollop of creamy gorgonzola dolce for an indulgent Italian twist!

Recipe Notes

Choose any medium- or coarse-ground cornmeal for authentic polenta texture. Avoid instant polenta, which sacrifices flavor for speed. Water creates the lightest polenta with pure corn flavor, while milk or stock offer richer alternatives.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
88 Calories
6g Fat
7g Carbs
1g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 88
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 8%
Saturated Fat 2g 8%
Cholesterol 5mg 2%
Sodium 341mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 22mg 2%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 21mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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