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polenta recipe
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. 

bobs red mill cornmeal 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. 

polenta cornmeal 

Polenta Recipe

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:
boiling water 
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:
greased dish 

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:
finished polenta
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:
polenta recipe finished
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.

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25 Responses to “Easy Polenta Recipe”

  1. Fried Polenta - Eatingcleveland.com Says:

    […] gave you my favorite creamy polenta recipe a few weeks ago and although I love the taste of polenta made that way, I think what you can do […]

  2. michele Says:

    First time I had polenta was at a local Shenandoah Valley restaurant. It came with scallops, I think, but that was too expensive, so I just ordered the polenta without the scallops. That way I got a piece of their great polenta for only $1.85. They must have taken a loss on it because they stopped making it.

    So I was at a grocery store in northern Virginia and saw 6-minute polenta mix in a box for $3.50. Right next to it was a bag of Indian Head Stone Ground Corn Meal with a polenta recipe on it for $1.39.

    But their recipe called for me to boil the cornmeal and water, 1 part to 3 parts, for 18 minutes, then pour it into a pan and chill it before cutting it into slices and frying it. That worked fine, although I think that when I changed the recipe to add more salt, it didn’t get as solid. But it was not what I had at that restaurant.

    Your baked polenta dish above is probably what the restaurant made. My question to you is:

    Can I just use cornmeal? That’s gritty enough for me. Will it hold up as well?

    Thanks. Michele

  3. whuebl Says:

    Ah, the mysterious aura of grits. And cornmeal.

    – you can cook many grains like cracked corn or cornmeal and if you use only a small amount of water it will harden a bit when cooled into a thick mush that can solidify. But we typically use corn products for the mush as it tends to taste better when used in other recipes like being fried.

    – if corn is steeped in lye, it changes to what is called hominy… a soft, white glutenous material that can be used in many stews and so forth. If it is dried and ground, it also can be used for grits and for polenta.

    – another good source for making grits is to use masa harina – a corn based flour. Using this for the basis of the grits can remove some of the gritiness – if that is a word – that cornmeal can have if it is not cooked long enough.

    I tend to prefer the hominy-based grits over the plain cracked cornmeal grits.

    But please, try all the different ways of making grits and choose what you like for yourself.

    Good luck and enjoy,


  4. Lunchbox Obsessed Says:

    YUM, I am going to make this tonight to go with salmon I just got at the fish market. Looks delicious, thanks!

  5. Barbara Says:

    My husband and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant last night and I ordered polenta and shrimp. Oh, it was divine. The polenta was in the middle of the plate and looked as though it had been cooked in a medium pyrex dish and turned upside down with sauted spinach on top. Some kind of light sauce was poured over it and there were 6 large shrimp surrounding the polenta. I am not sure how the shrimp were cooked either.Can you help me with reproducing this recipe for my next dinner party??

  6. Stephanie Says:

    I just wanted to clear something up — corn does not have gluten! It does act like gluten in some ways, but it is gluten free. Polenta is safe for Celiac and other Gluten Free folks!

  7. Jeremy Prince Says:

    I too wondered about that gluten reference but I have to say having just tried this recipe (I’m in England by the way) I made it absolutely verbatim to the recipe we find here. The result looked good but it had an overwhelming taste of nothing at all but an aftertaste that was bitter and had a hint of parmesan cheese.

    I bought some high grade polenta because the grits were not available here. It was less exciting than salted porridge. I can’t see what all the fuss is about this stuff.
    Unfathomable that in Italy they have parties where they eat nothing else. What a sad life if Polenta is regarded as something special.

    We don’t have such a tradition of eating Corn in the UK as much as in America where Popcorn and corn based foods are more popular. We have corn on the cob and sweetcorn but Polenta seems to be something that can’t make up its mind if it’s a pudding or a savoury main course.
    As for using it warmed up next day fried with a breakfast, I can think of better things to have with a breakfast fry-up such as Bacon and Egg with tomatoes and a “Savoury Duck” a North of England speciality.
    Sorry but this Polenta leaves me cold, and I’m going to throw the rest of the packet away as I can’t think of any other way to make clotted water tasting strongly of nothing be more appealing!

  8. Marie McGee Says:

    Holy crap, lol. This was the best written recipe/description of Polenta – I have ever heard or read. Awesome. <3

  9. Pier Says:

    I tend to agree with Jeremy, but I can live forever without grits too, and I’m from the south. Polenta, like grits, is tasteless without the cheese, and I figured it would fit in well on an English table. As students at the American School in Thorpe, now some thirty years ago, we were appaled by what passed as cooking. Take Yorkshire pudding, for example: nothing more than eggs and flour oven-fried in suet! Talk about unexciting!

  10. Julia Says:

    I just tried this recipe–I followed it to a tee and it didn’t turn out. I couldn’t get the polenta to thicken to the “spatula pull” consistency, even after an hour on medium heat. I finally gave up and put it in the casserole, and after 45 minutes in the oven, no crust had formed and it was not even the slightest bit thicker. I’m not sure what I did wrong. Luckily I like grits, though, so it’s not a complete waste.

  11. Nancy Says:

    I have to agree with the polenta don’t-get-its! My theory is that if you don’t grow up eating the stuff, you’ll never fall in love.

  12. Lori Says:

    Wow! Great recipe both visually and in the outcome. Love the easy instructions and the pictures. The pictures really helped especially with the consistancy. My only tip was that I had to cook it in the oven much longer than the recipe called for in order to get the nice brown top. More like 35 minutes. After that it was beautiful and delicious. I served it with braised short ribs that had a red wine sauce and it was out of this world!!!! Thank you for giving me an awesome addition to my culinary arsenal.

  13. Will Owen Says:

    I did not grow up eating grits; we did have cornmeal mush when I was a kid, but not often. I fell deeply in love with hominy grits when I moved to Nashville in my 30s, and now at 70 have just discovered polenta. All I can say to the non-tasters is it has to be your taste/smell receptor settings (can vary quite a bit from person to person), because even with a badly damaged sense of smell I’m getting lots of good corny flavor. I am cooking medium-ground imported polenta (from France), though I have some corn grits in the fridge I’ll try next. Mrs. O has become an instant enthusiast too; I made a dish of white beans served over polenta with Fontina cheese, a recipe from Lidia Bastianich passed along by a friend, and we both found it deliriously good. (I should also mention that in my family “Italian food” meant spaghetti with canned sauce and canned pre-grated cheese. And my mother had tried grits and despised them.)

  14. Jean Says:

    Will, I’d love to see the white beans/Fontina cheese polenta recipe!

  15. Will Owen Says:

    I apparently didn’t write down the recipe, I’m assuming because I didn’t really receive one; the guy who told me about it cooks freehand pretty much as I do! However, what I did was cook a pound or so of canellini (follow just about any good dry-bean recipe, if you need one), and when they were soft enough to eat I stripped a good bunch of kale off its stems, chopped the leaves very coarsely and stirred them in to cook (the best stuff is cavolo nero, or “dragon kale”, but any greens you enjoy can be used). Cook polenta as above, and when it’s done stir in a cup or so of shredded fontina cheese. To serve, put a good dollop of polenta into each bowl (warming them is a good idea), then ladle in the beans and greens. A non-Italian but very good touch is some hot sauce added to taste.

    By the way, my last batch of polenta was some coarse, whole-grain Red Mule grits. Very good and very corny!

  16. nativnissa Says:

    Too funny!!

  17. Danika @ Your Organic Life Says:

    I love polenta too. But don’t buy anything that isn’t certified organic or non-GMO. Corn is one of the most genetically modified crops in this country and GMOs have been proven to cause liver damage.

  18. Eileen Says:

    Made this for my family today. BIG HIT!!!

  19. tonja Says:

    We get our cornmeal from Spring Mill State Park in Indiana, they have a real working grist mill from 1817 that grinds corn (you can watch) and then they sell it in all sizes of bags. It is so fresh as it is ground daily, we love to add the herb rosemary to it for a nice kick.

  20. Sara Says:

    This is great! I’ve been living in Russia for years, and just recently started seeing cornmeal for sale – it’ll be a real taste of home.

  21. Edward Springs Says:

    This polenta dish is the gift that keeps on giving. Posted way back in ’08, I just saw it and made the polenta today, in 2011. So delicious! I can’t believe that much flavor was hiding in just humble corn meal. But baking with Parmesan made it even better. I can’t wait to try the left overs as a fried breakfast dish! Thanks for posting!

  22. Chloe Says:

    Just to clarify, there is no gluten in polenta and the thickening of the cornmeal is caused by the gelatinization of starch.

  23. Dairy + Egg Free Corn Chowder | food allergies + a toddler Says:

    […] with this recipe but was confused when it said polenta so I made an unnecessarily huge batch of polenta and added that until I got the right thickness in my soup. If I had to do it over again I would do […]

  24. Abigail Says:

    Just put it in the oven. Thanks so much for this recipe! I added a splash (or five) of mushroom stock to it while it was cooking in the pan. Going to eat it for lunch with some Allen’s turnip greens. Yum!

  25. will Says:

    You said “gluten” when u were describing the absorption of the water into the corn grits…. I don’t know if some people use gluten to make their polenta, but there’s no gluten anywhere in the meal u described unless it’s in your particular brand of parmesan cheese, but anyway gluten is like the thing that’s in wheat… and an increasing number of people are intolerant of gluten as humans have relied on wheat as a staple in their diets for too long now…. anyway… polenta is something that a large number of people make a part of their diet BECAUSE it is naturally gluten-free, so I’d revise your thingy it could be confusing to some

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