how to make polenta

[28 Dec 2009 | By | 13 Comments]

I am so excited! My goal was to learn to make focaccia, pizza dough and pasta dough while living in Italy. I figured I could pick up on the nuances of certain foods simply by having the time to cook, repeat and tweak. For example, how many rounds of focaccia will it take to really ‘know my dough.’ Knowing how to make something, to me, has a lot to do with instincts and intuition. I realize many talented chefs out there come poised with such instincts. Before cooking school, I think I had good senses in the kitchen, but school helped me pay attention to my instincts even more. In the end, cooking school did for me what I had hoped: it armed with with methods and supplied me with knowledge to make adjustments and ultimately, to learn to trust my instincts in the kitchen. (Instead of sometimes being intimidated, or not knowing what to do when something didn’t turn out right).

So when I am making a sauce and it is too thick, I can ask myself what are the options for making it thinner? And I taste, and test, and taste again to adjust the seasoning. And that is why figuring out polenta felt so, so good: I did it by feel. And you can too!

The first batch I madsoft polentae per the instructions on the cornmeal package. I used water, followed the recipe and turned out bonafide polenta. Then I used that as a reference: it tasted like polenta made with water. I made it with milk too, which added a little bit of a creamy element but not a lot of taste. Both times the polenta turned out rather firm. The third time really was the charm: I used [homemade] chicken stock and cream (milk and half & half work too) as the liquid.

Below is a recipe to get you started, oh and know that polenta wants to firm up. So if you want to serve it soft (see smallish photo of soft polenta topped with a rich wild boar sauce), you will need to adjust it with more [hot] liquid. And the photo on the top with the big hunk of polenta is the original polenta I made with water. To be fair, the fun in making polenta on the firm side means you can smooth it into a tray overnight, slice it into any shape and size (Christmas trees, stars, squares) and heat to serve or even saute’ and serve with some tomato sauce, eggplant or sausage ragu…

Basic Polenta
Serves 6-8.

4 cups simmering liquid (I used 2 cups chicken broth, 2 cups cream; feel free to adjust ratios)
1 cup corn meal/polenta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2-4 T butter

Simmer stock and cream. Vigorously whisk in corn meal. Lower heat and stir regularly for 10-15 minutes until corn meal softens (taste it!). You may need to stir in extra stock to achieve your soft-or-firm consistency (I use a wooden spoon). Off heat and stir in butter and Parmesan, adjust seasoning with kosher salt & coarse pepper (white pepper won’t make black specks). Serve immediately… or plunk into a tray to firm up for shapes the next day (same goes for leftovers).

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  • Nicole said (31 December 2009 at 2:32 pm):

    I was just wondering what we will be eating for dinner tonight. My friend Amanda just brought me a bag of grits from Baton Rouge, and I’m thinking that some creamy polenta/grits with a rich meaty sauce sounds just perfect!

  • janelle (author) said (12 January 2010 at 3:09 am):

    So glad! And so yummy this time of year (cozy food time!)

  • wild boar sauce---delicious and easy | Talk of Tomatoes said (23 January 2010 at 1:29 pm):

    […] of the city of Pienza. When not using pasta as a vehicle for our new favorite ragu, I gingerly ladle it onto soft polenta: […]

  • 5 things to make with leftover polenta | Talk of Tomatoes said (8 March 2010 at 5:50 am):

    […] you want to double the batch—having these ideas floating around in your head. OR maybe just make a batch of polenta, conveniently forget to serve it, then have the whole bulk of it for […]

  • Danika @ Your Organic Life said (13 July 2011 at 5:32 pm):

    I love polenta too. Just make sure it’s organic as corn is one of the most genetically modified crops in the US and GMOs have been proven to cause liver damages as well as other health problems.

  • Pat from SC said (6 August 2011 at 2:23 pm):

    Just did a search for polenta and came to your website. I just completet your polenta recipe and it is absolutely fabulous!! Being retired I am now cooking and baking all of the dishes I dared not try in restaurants or in my own kitchen previously. What fun!! I have found that many of the recipes do not turn out to be as good as they sound and the time and money spent is disappointing. This polenta recipe was so creamy,delicious and lump free I highly recommend it to any beginner. Thank you for sharing such great fool-proof recipes.

  • janelle (author) said (6 August 2011 at 2:26 pm):

    Pat: thank you! So happy you found my site and so, so happy you made this polenta! I set a high bar when it comes to sharing recipes (I keep all the ‘flops’ in my kitchen and share all the best/worth your time recipes on my blog;))). LMK what you try next!!!

  • deirdre said (19 August 2011 at 8:36 am):

    I was looking for a polenta recipe to make for someone special and I found your page! I am going to use this recipe, it looks amazing. I will let you know how it turns out and post a picture. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your recipes.

  • janelle said (20 August 2011 at 7:51 pm):

    Deirdre: fantastic! I adore this polenta and hope you do too! Yes do LMK!

  • Mary said (23 August 2011 at 1:35 pm):

    I had some left over pork roast,and was wondering what to do with it,then I saw this recipe.
    I semi coursely chopped the pork,added some finely chopped fresh sage,mixed it into the cooked polenta. After it had firmed up in the fridge,it was sliced,toasted under the broiler,and topped with poached eggs,with fresh sliced tomatoes on the side. YUMMY.

  • janelle (author) said (29 August 2011 at 2:10 pm):

    Yeah!!! Thanks for letting me know—being a part of someone’s yummy bites warms my soul. Big smiles all around.

  • Talk of Tomatoes (new) | Italian appetizers for 350? Sure, no problem. said (26 November 2011 at 12:53 pm):

    […] Italy where I cooked non-stop. It is where I fell in love with olive oil (even more so), cinghiale, polenta, risotto, arugula salad, ragu and tiramisu—and easily the reason I have fava beans growing in […]

  • Talk of Tomatoes | eggplant ragu… on soft polenta. said (16 February 2012 at 4:54 pm):

    […] Here is the recipe for polenta. […]