Polenta is a great side dish for Italian meals that few people in this country have ever made, but it’s so easy to make that once you try it you’ll wonder why you’ve never made polenta. Made with a ground cornmeal, polenta is boiled to seduce a velvety creaminess that is a great addition to any meal.
The first thing you need to make polenta is ground cornmeal. I prefer a course ground cornmeal because I enjoy the texture it produces in the final product. When shopping for polenta, don’t look for polenta. Look instead for grits. If someone expects you to be making polenta from the cornmeal, you’ll end up paying a premium for it.
My favorite brand is Bob’s Red Mill. You can order off of their website or you can find it at your local grocery store. My store keeps it in the health foods section. As you can see from the close-up picture, their product is very coarse, just what we’re after.
2 Cups cornmeal
6 Cups water
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup of shaved Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350°
Now there are many variations on making polenta, in this one I take it an extra step to increase the texture variation by putting it in the oven.
The first thing we need to do is get that water boiling. Put the salt in there so that it dissolves into the water. Measure out your cornmeal and once the water starts doing this:
dump in your measured out cornmeal and start stirring. Turn the heat down to medium. While the water is working its magic on the cornmeal, grease a casserole dish with some olive oil, doesn’t matter what kind, for the trip to the oven. Make sure its well coated, it should look like this:
You’ll notice that the polenta is now very loose. If you were to pick up a spoonful, it should drip right off without any hesitation and it should feel light. Continue stirring the mixture as it can burn.
As the water is absorbed and the gluten from the cornmeal is developed, you’ll notice the mixture become thick. The process usually takes 30 minutes. You’ll know you’ve reached the right consistency when you can pull a spatula across the bottom of the pot and the polenta does not fill it back in. Like this:
See how it stays together? That is exactly what you want to see. Now toss in the butter and stir to combine.
At this point, if you’d like a smooth creamy polenta, you can stop right here, it will be delicious. But, you’re not gonna stop, are you? I didn’t think so.
Turn out your newly formed polenta into your greased baking dish, making sure to pack it in to form a tight layer. This will help to form a crust when in the oven. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 15 minutes. You’ll be greeted with this beautiful dish:
Does that look good or what? Hell yes it does.
Let your polenta sit for 10 or 15 minutes so that it can set-up a bit. What you’ll have is a dish of polenta with a firm crust on the top, sides and bottom, but the middle will be completely creamy. It’s such a great contrast of textures.
You can serve your polenta with just about any meal, but it obviously is well suited as a side for meat dishes and especially those with a sauce it can soak up. The salty creaminess is sure to become a family favorite.
Unfortunately, polenta is one of those eat it now or forget it things. If you don’t finish it all, it will never be the same. That being said, once it has chilled in the fridge overnight, it sets up into this firm cake that when fried makes just about the best breakfast food known to mankind.
Stay tuned for my follow-up showcasing the wonders of fried polenta.
Tagged with: creamy polenta • easy polenta recipe • Polenta recipe
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