Polenta recipe is a northern Italian dish made with coarsely ground cornmeal and salted water.
Polenta is a versatile dish with different textures. It can be soft and creamy, similar to porridge, or hard and firm. It depends on the amount of water used for cooking.
You can use it as a side dish or you can eat it as a single main dish.
The recipe we are going to show you is the authentic Italian recipe for basic polenta, WITHOUT the addition of cheese or butter.
Polenta is a typical dish of the Italian cucina povera, which has reached our days with the reputation of a simple, low-cost dish. In reality, today, it’s very easy to enrich and make many variations (see paragraphs below), including vegetarian and vegan.
Yes, because basic polenta recipe is VEGAN-VEGETARIAN-GLUTEN FREE!
The secret is especially in the choice of seasonings, which for vegetarians and vegans can range from mushrooms, to legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, to seasonal vegetables of all kinds.
Basic Polenta is excellent served hot in winter, but also cold in summer, maybe in the form of croutons.
Now let’s see how to make the best polenta recipe!
Basic Polenta Recipe
- Prep Time: 10 Min
- Cook Time: 45 Min. For the recipe for basic polenta made in 10 minutes, read the paragraph below “Instant Polenta Recipe”.
- Yields : 4
- 400 g (3 1/4 cups) of corn flour for polenta – Packages labeled “polenta” mean that the grind of the corn is appropriate to make the polenta dish, but you can even substitute it with coarsely-ground cornmeal.
- 1, 5 liters (6 1/3 cups) of water
- 1 tablespoon of coarse salt
PLEASE NOTE: Polenta Ratio
Proportions between water and corn flour are important for the preparation of polenta. In fact you can make polenta with different consistencies: soft to eat with cheeses or hard and firm to eat as an accompaniment to meat sauces or stews.
The classic ratio is 1 part polenta to 4 parts of water for a medium consistency as in this recipe.
Here the POLENTA RATIO for different consistencies:
- 1 liter of water (4 1/4 cups) + 300 g (2 1/2 cups) of corn flour for a firm polenta
- 1 liter of water (4 1/4 cups) + 250 g (2 cups) of corn flour for a medium consistency polenta
- 1 liter of water (4 1/4 cups) + 200 g (1 1/2) of corn flour for a very soft polenta.
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
You need 3 fundamental tools to make the perfect polenta recipe. Let’s see what they are:
So if you like medium/firm polenta, you need a round tray to turn it upside down and serve it. We opted for a round wooden cutting board with handles berfect to overturn polenta on it and bring it to the table.
Of course today there are many tools that help us to make an excellent polenta without working too hard. So have a look to this beautiful electric polenta copper pot.
And finally look at this beautiful sets for polenta, maybe for a nice gift idea!
How to Make Italian Basic Polenta Recipe
Polenta is an easy-to-make recipe, but in addition to the basic ingredients (corn flour – or corn and buckwheat or whole wheat – water and salt) in the right proportions, you need time and a lot of patience.
You can also make instant polenta that cooks in minutes (see the paragraph below). Just know that the flavor is undoubtedly less rich.
Classic Polenta must cook slowly, possibly in a cauldron or in a heavy bottom non-stick saucepan. The secret to get a perfect, homogeneous and lump-free polenta, is to stir polenta throughout the cooking time.
So if you want to make traditional basic polenta recipe, you have to cook it for 45 minutes and stir for 45 minutes. Maybe not all 45, but more or less. Right?
That said, let’s start!
Step 1) – Bring water to a boil with 1 tablespoon coarse salt. When the water begins to boil, pour in the corn flour slowly and gradually. Stir constantly and at first with a hand whisk: it helps to avoid lumps.
Step 2) – At first the polenta has a very watery consistency. Then, little by little, you will see it thicken and solidify. Never stop stirring as you pour in the flour. The TRICK is to pour the flour in slowly while stirring quickly.
Step 3) – Then lower the heat to low. Cook the polenta without ever stopping stirring, always in the same direction, with a long-handled wooden spoon, so that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
Step 4) – Cook the polenta for about 40-60 minutes. The time depends on the grinding of the corn flour and the consistency you prefer. However no less than 40 minutes. Taste the polenta to check its flavor. If it’s slightly bland for your taste, add some fine salt.
After the necessary cooking time, TURN UP the heat so that it detaches well from the bottom and sides of the pot. If the polenta tends to dry out too much while it cooks, you can add a ladle of boiling salted water. If it’s too soft, leave it on the stove for a few more minutes.
Step 5) – Once cooked, pour the polenta on a wooden cutting board if its consistency is hard and firm, as in our recipe. If you prefer a soft polenta, then pour it in a serving bowl. Serve hot.
What Goes Best with Polenta?
You can serve polenta as a main or side dish. There are so many recipes that go well with this Italian dish, from meat to fish, up to cheeses. Let’s see some of them!
Polenta with Osso Buco
Basic Polenta with Osso Buco, a typical recipe from northern Italy, in particular from the city of Milan.
“Polenta pasticciata” is basic polenta mixed with parmigiano cheese and sliced ham. You can even mix basic soft polenta with a ragout made with sausage, mushrooms and tomato passata.
Baccala with Polenta
In North-Eastern Italy they usually taste soft white polenta with fish: you have to try Polenta with codfish Vicenza-style. Read also our recipe How to Make Baccalà alla Livornese
Polenta with cheeses is a must. This Creamy Italian Polenta recipe is known in Italy as Polenta concia.
Mix polenta still hot with grated parmigiano or gorgonzola or crescenza or asiago or fontina. Try polenta with Fontina fondue.
Polenta with Meat Stew
Finally serve polenta instead of bread, pasta or rice as an accompaniment to meat sauces, stews or sausage sauce, mushrooms ragout or “cotechino”. Great with bolognese ragù and Beef Braised in Barolo Wine.
How Many Types of Flour are There to Make Polenta?
Polenta variations depend on the types of flour and the addition of ingredients. By using the same cooking method and changing the type of flour, we can get different variations of the polenta recipe.
Black polenta, yellow polenta, white polenta… There are many types of polenta that differ in many aspects, first of all, the color. Polenta colors come from the type of flour used to make this dish.
Yellow Corn Flour for Yellow Polenta
Yellow corn flour is the one for classic polenta recipe. It can be coarsely ground (bramata in Italian) or very fine ground (fioretto), for a very refined polenta both in flavor and texture.
Buckwheat Flour for “Black” Polenta
Among the many types of flour for polenta is buckwheat flour. Usually ground to a medium to coarse grain, it gives you a ” black” polenta, with a strong and very aromatic flavor. Buckwheat polenta goes well with very flavorful meats and sausages.
White Corn Flour for White Polenta
White corn flour (in Italian Biancoperla flour) is the most delicate. It comes from the grinding of a variety of white corn, with large grains and pearly color, with a sweet and light flavor. This type of flour for polenta is recognized as a typical Venetian product, often accompanied with fish or for sweet recipes.
What other Recipes can I Make with this Basic Polenta Recipe?
This is the authentic basic recipe for Italian polenta. If you learn well how to make polenta as we suggested in the various steps, then you can make any other recipe involving polenta.
Here are two recipes that you can make with basic polenta.
Fried Polenta Recipe
Fried polenta is usually made with firm basic polenta. In this case, the polenta must be left to cool and then cut into slices.
The slices should be about half an inch thick. Make small squares or rectangles or large matches, as if they were potatoes to be fried. Finally fry in plenty of vegetable oil.
Polenta” Taragna” is made with a mix of whole corn flour and medium-grain buckwheat. It’s widespread in northern Lombardy, especially in Valtellina and in the valleys of the provinces of Bergamo, Brescia and Lecco.
The classic recipe for polenta Taragna consists in adding cheese and butter while cooking the basic polenta.
Similar to polenta Taragna but made with yellow flour is the “Polenta Concia” (see the paragraph above). It’s typical of mountain places especially in Aosta Valley.
Fast and Simple Polenta Recipe
You can also make this polenta recipe in no time at all, 10 minutes! Let’s see how to make it.
Instant Polenta Recipe
Instant polenta recipe is nothing more than polenta made with a special corn flour for instant polenta. It’s super fast to make! Follow all the steps of this recipe carefully, using this Molino Rossetto Instant Polenta flour. It cooks in 5 minutes!
Make Polenta In the Microwave Oven
Cook polenta in the microwave oven boiling the salted water in the oven for two minutes at 800 W, using a suitable container. Pour in the flour, mix and cook for about 20 minutes always at 800 W.
Stop cooking every 5 minutes to mix and to check the consistency of the polenta, if necessary add more water.
Polenta can be stored in the refrigerator closed in an airtight container for a maximum of 3-4 days.
Polenta leftovers can be used sliced, toasted or fried, as a base for excellent croutons or bruschetta.
Polenta Recipe: History and Curiosities
Polenta (from Latin puls-pultis) is an ancient food. In the Middle Ages it was a cream made of minced beans cooked with oil, onions and sometimes with the addition of cereals such as buckwheat and spelt.
After the discovery of America, the cultivation of corn spread in Europe and also in Italy. I particular in the regions of Northern Italy, as a new exotic grain (called Grano Turco).
Polenta became a dish mainly consumed by farmers and poor people: corn was cheap and polenta was able to fill the bellies of many poor and numerous families.
With time, polenta became a traditional dish, a cultural and territorial identity of the cities of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, Trentino, Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Polenta is still considered a rustic food, but it’s also used for rich and elaborate dishes.