Yellow cornmeal, or polenta, is a classic of Italian cooking. Freshly cooked polenta looks like a cross between semolina pudding and porridge. In Italy it is eaten in many different ways from a simple first course with butter and Parmesan cheese to an accompaniment for game casseroles. Or serve with fresh tomato sauce or grilled meat.

You need 300 g (10 oz) polenta to serve 4–6. In Italy, polenta is lovingly and continually stirred for up to an hour, but I find frequent stirring for 20 minutes is quite sufficient. If allowed to set in a shallow layer, polenta can be cut up and grilled, making it even more delicious.

  1. Bring 1.8 litres (3 pints) milk and water mixed to boil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Season with salt. Weigh out 300 g (10 oz) polenta. With a long-handled spoon in one hand for stirring, drizzle the grains into the saucepan with your other hand. Stir briskly, but not too vigorously, always in only one direction to avoid lumps, as you add the polenta.

  2. Continue to stir rapidly until smooth and thick, then turn down the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Ideally you should stir all the time, but as long as you stir and rinse frequently to stop the polenta burning on the base of the saucepan it should be fine. Check the seasoning and stir in a good knob of butter and grated Parmesan cheese.

  3. To serve polenta as grilled slices pour the cooked polenta into a large, shallow ovenproof dish and spread out evenly. Cool and chill until set solid, then cut into narrow rectangles. Preheat a grill until very hot and grill the slices until browned and crispy on both sides. Spread with butter to serve with stews or grilled meats or simply buttered on its own.