Basic Polenta

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Italian Slow and Savory

Italian Slow and Savory

By Joyce Goldstein

Published 2004

  • About


Most recipes for polenta instruct to bring salted water to a boil— 4 cups water for each 1 cup corn-meal—and to add the cornmeal in a thin stream while stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Once all the cornmeal is in the pan, the heat is reduced to low and simmered slowly, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the polenta is cooked, 25 to 45 minutes. I have found that whisking together the cold water, salt, and cornmeal, bringing it to a gradual boil over medium heat, and then whisking from time to time as it cooks, is foolproof, producing lump-free polenta. As soon as it boils, I reduce the heat to low and simmer it, stirring every so often, until the polenta is creamy, rather than grainy, on the tongue. This usually takes 30 to 40 minutes. I then stir in the butter and Parmesan.

Some cooks prefer to simmer the polenta in a double boiler to prevent scorching, but I do not think it is necessary. Another method, which requires virtually no stirring, calls for whisking together the cornmeal, water, salt, and butter, pouring it into a well-buttered deep baking dish or saucepan, and then baking it in a 350°F oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Stir it once, taste and adjust the seasoning, and continue to Bake for 10 minutes longer.

Cooked polenta can be kept soft and flowing in a saucepan or in the top of a double boiler by adding small amounts of hot water at regular intervals. It will take as much water as you add and keep on drinking. When you are ready to serve, you can fold in a creamy, good-melting cheese, such as mascarpone, Gorgonzola, robiola, or Fontina. You can also add chopped herbs like chives or sage, or fold in chopped cooked vegetables such as spinach or broccoli or mashed butternut squash. If you do not want it soft, pour it onto a wet or oiled rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until set. You can then cut it into strips or squares, and bake, fry, or grill the pieces.