Polenta, somewhere along the line, picked up a bit of a reputation for being fussy. Luckily, home cooks are coming to their senses and its reputation is, rightfully, coming back around to the easy staple it’s meant to be. The lovely thing about polenta is how versatile it is. Whether it’s creamy, firm, baked, grilled, fried, or playing second fiddle as an ingredient elsewhere, this naturally gluten-free pile of corny goodness belongs at your table. Sure, you could pick up a tube of it from the store, but why not make it from home? It’s cheaper to buy a bag of cornmeal, and you get more than one use out of leftovers. A big batch of creamy polenta for dinner gets split into a ready-to bake polenta breakfast casserole and the rest gets chilled and sliced and grilled for polenta toasts for lunch. Dessert doesn’t get left out, either; polenta makes a mean sweet snacking cake. With these 9 recipes and a little know-how, you’ll have no reason (excepting a corn allergy) not to include polenta in more of your meals.
1. Basic Creamy Stovetop Polenta
The Kitchn has some important tips on preparing polenta. First, this is not risotto. You don’t actually have to stand there and stir it for 30 minutes. Marcella Hazan, the lovely late hero of accessible Italian cooking, has a much better method for preparing creamy stovetop polenta: Stir just until it starts to thicken, then cover it and make the rest of dinner. Every 10 minutes or so, come back and give it a good stir. In 30 to 40 minutes, it will be creamy, the graininess will be gone, the sweetness of the corn will shine through, and you will still have full use of your arms.
They do warn you that polenta can be pretty sly: At the 15 minute mark, it will look done. It can certainly be served at this point. Trust in us, though, because it gets better. Leave it and stir after another 10 minutes, and you will be rewarded with superior polenta. The cheese here is optional, but strongly recommended.
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup cheese
Directions: Bring the water to a brisk boil over medium-high heat. Add the salt.
While whisking gently, pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream.
Turn down the heat to low and continue whisking until the polenta has thickened enough that it doesn’t settle back on the bottom of the pan when you stop stirring.
Cover the polenta and continue cooking. Stir vigorously every 10 minutes or so, making sure to scrape the sides, bottom, and corners of the pan. Cook 30 minutes for softer porridge-like polenta or 40 minutes for thicker polenta.
Stir the cheese and butter into the polenta, if using. Serve immediately, or cover the pan and let it sit at the back of the stove for up to 15 minutes before serving.
2. Polenta Fries
Creamy polenta leftovers should absolutely be saved and reborn as firm polenta. Spread evenly in a container (square baking pan, cake pan, bread loaf tin, muffin tin, what have you) and let it firm up overnight. Then cut into thick fries and fry lightly, serving with tarragon aioli or marinara sauce as done in this recipe from Spoon, Fork, Bacon. They’re crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and a total hit with everyone. You could deep fry them, but they’re just as good shallowly fried in a pan with a good slick of oil.
The recipe includes instructions for starting the polenta from scratch. Feel free to skip over this and use leftover polenta if you have it!
- 4 cups low-fat milk
- 1½ cups coarse ground yellow cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2½ ounces goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons minced tarragon
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Pour milk into a medium saucepan, place over medium heat and simmer.
Slowly whisk in cornmeal until fully incorporated, then drop the heat to low and continue to stir for about 5 minutes.
Fold in butter and goat cheese and season with salt and pepper. Stir until no lumps remain, then pour mixture into a lightly greased 9- by 13-inch baking sheet with at least a 1-inch lip.
Evenly spread and allow mixture to cool for about 20 minutes before placing into the refrigerator. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
While that’s chilling, make the aioli. Whisk all ingredients well to combine and refrigerate until needed.
Remove polenta from refrigerator and invert onto a clean cutting board. Cut polenta into ½-inch by 3-inch sticks.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. Lightly fry polenta stick for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
Place finished sticks onto some paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Serve with aioli and/or marinara sauce.
3. Fried Breakfast Polenta With Blackberry Jam
What happens when you turn polenta into breakfast in the Joy the Baker kitchen? Buttery, creamy fried polenta bars that almost resemble French toast topped with blackberry meyer lemon jam. First, you’ll make polenta with vanilla and brown sugar. Then you’ll let it chill, cut it into bars, pan fry them, and top them with delicious jam, powdered sugar, or maple syrup. You’ll be a brunch hero.
- 1 cup polenta
- 3 cups cold water
- 2 cups whole milk
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions: In a small bowl, top with polenta with 1 cup cold water and stir. Set aside. In a medium saucepan add 2 cups cold water and 2 cups whole milk. Bring to a low boil. Add salt and stir. Slowly add the polenta and water mixture, using a whisk to stir out any possible lumps.
Once all of the polenta is added, turn the flame to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the polenta has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. Once thickened, add sugar and vanilla bean or vanilla extract. At this point, you can eat a small bowl to tide you over. Let cool.
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. If you’re working with more polenta, you might want to use two loaf pans. Spread the cooled polenta into the lined loaf pan and cover by folding over the overhanging flaps of plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to cool and set for at least an hour and up to overnight.
Remove the chilled plastic wrapped polenta from the loaf pan. Unwrap. You should have a brick of cold polenta. Cut this into bars or squares.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and a splash of neutral oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place ½ cup all-purpose flour in a bowl. Dredge the cold polenta bars in the flour, coating all sides.
Placed dredged polenta in hot, buttered skillet. Flip and turn the bars as they begin to color to brown all sides.
Once cooked, remove from hot pan onto an oven proof plate. Place in an oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm while you cook the rest of the polenta. Serve with jam, powdered sugar, or maple syrup.
4. Polenta and Sausage Breakfast Casserole
For breakfast option number two, we take a more savory approach with this recipe from The Tasty Fork. It features sweet Italian sausage, polenta, eggs, and a whole bunch of cheese. There’s very little that can go wrong here, especially when you consider that it can all be done ahead of time and baked up in the morning in just 25 minutes. It’s a wonderful meal for many hungry mouths! If you’re already cooking polenta for dinner, double it and take the extra couple minutes to throw this together for tomorrow’s breakfast. Let present you take care of future you.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 16 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 cups sliced green onions
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4½ cups fat-free milk
- 1½ cups uncooked quick-cooking polenta
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces smoked white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1¾ ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- Cooking spray
Directions: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add sausage; sauté 5 minutes or until browned. Add onions, thyme, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Bring milk to a simmer in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in polenta and salt; simmer 7 minutes, stirring frequently with a whisk. Remove from heat. Add cheeses; stir until cheeses melt. Place the polenta mixture in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in pepper sauce and eggs. Add sausage mixture; stir well to combine. Spread polenta mixture into a 2-quart glass or ceramic broiler-safe baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cool to room temperature. At this point, the polenta can be refrigerated overnight.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncover dish. Bake for 25 minutes or just until set. Top of the casserole should be browned.
5. Grilled Polenta Toasts
These toasts from Cooking Light via MyRecipes make a wonderful snack or appetizer. They’re topped with sweet balsamic glazed onions, roasted peppers, feta, and fresh thyme. Cut into small triangles, they’re perfect for picking up and popping right into your mouth. Though the grill marks and slight smokiness certainly have their place here in this appetizer, you could certainly cook these in a skillet.
- 3 cups water
- ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 cup dry polenta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- Cooking spray
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 cups vertically sliced onion
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Directions: Bring 3 cups water and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Spoon polenta into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Press plastic wrap onto surface of polenta; chill 2 hours or until firm.
When the polenta is halfway to firming up, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining 1 tablespoon butter; swirl to coat. Add garlic; sauté 15 seconds. Add remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, onion, and thyme sprig; sauté 3 minutes or until onion begins to soften. Reduce heat to low; cook 30 minutes or until onion is very tender, stirring frequently. Add vinegar; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Discard thyme sprig.
Invert polenta onto a cutting board; cut into 16 squares. Cut each square in half diagonally. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat polenta triangles with cooking spray. Add 16 triangles to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining triangles.
Divide onion mixture, bell pepper, and feta evenly among triangles. Garnish with thyme leaves.
6. Grilled Polenta With Shrimp and Escaole
Grilled polenta in this dish from Eating Well acts almost like a big, corny crouton over a delicious mess of sweet shrimp in a spicy, brothy tomato sauce with the bite of escarole for balance. This Mediterranean-inspired dish would make a great lunch or a light dinner. Make it a meal with a big hunk of crusty bread to mop up the sauce and a side salad to round it out.
This recipe calls for a tube of polenta, which you could certainly pick up from the store. If you’ve already made a batch of creamy polenta, though, let it firm up and then slice it into whatever size you’d like. If you’re really into circles, you could either search for a tube mold or grease a muffin tin.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons for drizzling
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
- Two 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound peeled cooked shrimp, tails removed if desired
- 6 cups thinly sliced escarole or spinach
- One 16-ounce tube prepared plain polenta, sliced into 8 rounds
- 8 oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped
Directions: Preheat grill to high.
Place 1 tablespoon oil and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until juicy, about 3 minutes. Stir in shrimp and escarole; cook, stirring, until the escarole is wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.
Oil the grill rack with a paper towel and tongs. Do not use cooking spray over a hot grill. Grill polenta slices until hot and slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Divide the sauce among 4 shallow bowls or plates. Top with the polenta slices, sprinkle with olives, and drizzle each serving with ½ teaspoon oil. Serve immediately.
7. Sweet Corn Polenta With Eggplant Sauce
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in Plenty, Steve from Oui, Chef and his kids made polenta from fresh corn. Yes! Fresh corn! Rid your imagination of all possible drying and grinding, because it’s so terribly easy to make from great corn right off the cob. This is particularly good at the height of summer when everything is fresh and in season, but it can be a good way to salvage off-season corn. All it takes is a food processor or a blender and a bit of time on the stove!
- 6 ears of corn
- 2¼ cups of water
- 3 tablespoons butter, diced
- 7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ⅔ cups vegetable oil
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into ¾ inch dice
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 6½ tablespoons water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
Directions: To make the eggplant sauce, heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until nicely brown. Drain off as much oil as possible and discard it.
Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes to get a deep flavored sauce. Set aside; warm it up as needed.
Remove the husk and silk from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels – either stand each ear upright on its base and shave downward, or lay each ear on its side on a cutting board to slice off the kernels.
Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid in a large pyrex measuring cup.
Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
Now return the corn paste to the pan and add back about half of the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thicken to mashed potato consistency. Add back more of the cooking liquid during this phase if you prefer a looser texture.
Fold the butter, the feta, salt, and some pepper and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
8. Orange and Polenta Cookies
These cookies from Food & Wine have a fabulous, crunchy texture from the addition of polenta. The mellow corn flavor is brightened by the addition of plenty of orange zest. The dough comes together quickly in the food processor These cookies are a great pair with ice cream, fruit compote, and tea or coffee.
- 1½ cups medium non-instant polenta or yellow cornmeal
- 1½ sticks chilled unsalted butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
- Pinch of salt
- 2 large eggs
Directions: In a food processor, combine the polenta with the butter, sugar, flour, orange zest, and salt and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the eggs and pulse just until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a bowl and refrigerate until slightly firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop slightly rounded teaspoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges and on the bottoms. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
9. Lemon Lavender Polenta Cake
The polenta in this beautifully spring-like cake recipe from Food52 does a great job of retaining moisture in the final cake. To keep it even more flavorful and moist, the cake is drenched in a lemon syrup as it starts to cool. The floral lavender notes are very subtle, with lemon up in the forefront. If you want a more flower-forward cake, feel free to increase the amount in the dough. Sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar on top and serve simply.
- 1¾ sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease the pan
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon cake or all-purpose flour
- 1¼ cups instant polenta
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 3 medium eggs
- Zest of 2 lemons
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon dried lavender
- Powdered sugar, to serve
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ⅔ cup sugar
Directions: Line the base of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease lightly with butter.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a separate bowl, mix together flour, polenta, and baking powder, then beat some of this into the butter/sugar mixture, followed by one egg. Alternate adding dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.
Finally, beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and lavender. Then scrape the mixture into your prepared pan and bake in the oven, about 40 minutes. It may seem a bit wobbly but a cake tester should come out clean. Transfer it from oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its tin.
Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Once the sugar has dissolved into the juice, leave it for about one minute more and then you’re done.
Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester, fork, or skewer. Be careful not to tear the cake too much if using a fork or a skewer, as it is delicate. Pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its pan.
Before serving, dust with powdered sugar.