Polenta is easy to prepare (and lumpfree!) if you start with cold water. Parmesan or butter are optional enrichments. Polenta can be held in its soft state in a double boiler over hot water. Alternately, it can be poured onto a buttered or oiled baking sheet and chilled until firm, then cut into shapes for frying, grilling, or baking.


  • 7 to 8 cups cold water
  • 2 cups coarse cornmeal for polenta
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (optional)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Salt



Stir 7 cups cold water and the polenta together in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pot, until thick and it no longer feels grainy on your tongue, about 30 minutes. Add more water if the polenta thickens too much before it’s cooked. Stir in the optional butter and Parmesan and season to taste with salt. Serve the polenta soft right out of the pot or pour it into a double boiler and keep it warm over simmering water, adding water or stock as needed.

Or spread the polenta on 1 or 2 buttered or oiled baking sheets and refrigerate until firm. Once it’s cooled, cover it with plastic wrap. Cut the polenta into strips or triangles in the baking sheet.

To sauté, cook the polenta in clarified butter or olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over high heat until golden on both sides. To bake, place the pieces in buttered gratin dishes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until hot and crusty. To deep fry, coat the pieces first with flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Place the pieces on a wire rack and let the coating set. Deep fry a few at a time in peanut oil heated to 350 degrees.