Polenta Recipe | How to Make Basic Polenta

Polenta recipe is a dish from northern Italy made with cornmeal coarsely ground and salted water. Polenta can be soft and creamy, similar to porridge, or hard and more compact. It depends on the amount of water used for cooking.

Polenta is excellent with meat or mushroom ragout. Terrific when mixed with cheeses like gorgonzola and parmigiano.

polenta recipe

Polenta is a typical dish of the peasant tradition, which has reached our days with the reputation of a poor dish. In reality, today, it’s very easy to enrich and make many variations, including vegetarian and vegan.

Yes, because basic polenta recipe is vegan-vegetarian-gluten free.

The secret is mainly in the choice of condiments, which for vegetarians and vegans can range from mushrooms, to legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, to all types of seasonal vegetables.

Polenta is excellent served hot in winter, but also cold in summer, maybe in the form of croutons.

Though most typically made with coarse yellow cornmeal, you can make polenta also with finely ground yellow or white cornmeal.


Polenta Recipe

  • Prep Time: 10 Min
  • Cook Time: 45 Min
  • Yields : 4

Ingredients

  • 400 gr (14 oz) 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 substitute coarsely-ground cornmeal instead.
  • 1, 5 liters of water
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse salt

NOTE

Proportions between water and corn are mportant 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. Below the ratio for a more or less hard polenta:

  • 1 liter of water + 300 g (10,50 oz) of corn flour for a firm polenta
  • 1 liter of water + 250 g (8,8 oz) of corn flour for a medium consistency
  • 1 liter of water + 200 g (7 oz) 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:

Polenta has always been cooked in Italy in a “paiolo”: a pot made of copper or a non-stick cauldron with a high thickness to spread the heat evenly and to cook the corn perfectly.

You need a long wooden spoon because the polenta has a long cooking time and you have to stir it often. At the beginning mix with a hand whisk: it helps not to form lumps.

So when the polenta is ready, 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 Perfect 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.

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 you want to make traditional polenta recipe, you have to cook it for 45 minutes and you have to stir it for 45 minutes. Maybe not all 45, but more or less. Right?

That said, let’s start

polenta recipe step 1

Step 1) – Bring the water to a boil with 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. When the water is startig boiling, pour in the corn flour slowly and little by little. Stir constantly and at the beginning mix with a hand whisk: it helps not to form lumps.

polenta recipe step 2

Step 2) – At first polenta has a very watery consistency then, little by little, you see that it begins to thicken and solidify. Never stop stirring while pouring the flour. The trick is to pour in the flour slowly while mixing quickly.

polenta recipe step 3

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.

polenta recipe step 4

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 is 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 is too soft, leave it on the stove for a few more minutes.

polenta recipe step 5

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 creamy polenta, then pour it in a serving bowl. Serve hot.

polenta recipe

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 Ossobuco, a typical recipe from northern Italy, in particular from the city of Milan.

“Polenta pasticciata” that is polenta mixed with parmigiano cheese and sliced ham.  You can even mix soft polenta with a ragout made with sausage, mushrooms and tomato passata.

In North-Eastern Italy they usually taste soft white polenta with fish: you have to try polenta with cod Vicenza-style.

Polenta with cheeses is a must. Mix polenta still hot with grated parmigiano, gorgonzola, crescenza, asiago or fontina. Try polenta with Fontina fondue.

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.

polenta with meat sauce

Polenta Recipe Variants 

The variations of polenta can depend on the types of flour and the addition of ingredients. With the same cooking method and changing the type of flour, we can obtain different variations of polenta recipe.

polenta flours

Many Flours for Many Colors of Polenta

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 there is buckwheat flour. Generally ground to medium-coarse grain it gives us a “black” polenta, with a strong and very aromatic flavor. Buckwheat polenta goes well with very tasty meats and sausage.
    • 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.

Let’s See Other Polenta Variations

Fried Polenta:Fried polenta is usually made with firm 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 oil.

Polenta Taragna: Polenta” Taragna” is made with a mix of whole corn flour and medium-grain buckwheat. It is 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 polenta. Similar to polenta Taragna but with yellow flour is the “polenta concia”. It is typical of mountain places especially in Aosta Valley.

Easy and Fast Polenta Recipes

Instant polenta: pre-cooked steamed polenta, in this case the preparation will be much faster: it will take about 10 minutes for cooking.

Pressure Cooker: cook polenta in the pressure cooker filling it with cold water, pour in the flour and mix well. Close the pot and cook for half an hour from when the whistle starts.

In the microwave oven: cook polenta in the microwave oven boiling the 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.

Storage

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 slices

Polenta Recipe: History and Curiosities

Polenta (from the Latin puls-pultis) is an ancient food. In the Middle Ages it was a cream based on chopped beans cooked with oil, onions and sometimes with the addition of cereals such as buckwheat and spelled.

After the discovery of America, the cultivation of corn spread also in Europe and in Italy.

The cultivation of corn spread mainly in the regions of Northern Italy as a new exotic grain (called grano Turco – Turkish grain). Thus polenta became a dish consumed above all by farmers and poor people: corn was cheap and polenta was able to fill the bellies of many poor and numerous families.

Over the time, polenta has become a traditional dish, a cultural identity and territorial of the towns of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Trentino, Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Polenta is still considered a rustic food but it is also used for rich and elaborate dishes. Gluten-free, it is also suitable for celiacs.

Polenta has always been served as a substitute for bread, as a side dish, accompanied by other foods, or cut into slices and toasted or fried.

2 thoughts on “Polenta Recipe | How to Make Basic Polenta”

  1. Thank you for your website. My family is from a small town, Monasterolo. My nonno always made the polenta and I’ve not had a polenta that comes close to his. The polenta taragna sounds very close to what my taste buds remember. Please tell me what recipe may be closest to what I remember and miss. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Shari,
      Well, your nonno’s recipe for polenta, if it’s not “polenta Taragna”, is most likely “polenta concia”. It’s a typical recipe of the Aosta Valley but you can find it even in the valleys of the province of Bergamo and Monasterolo is a beautiful town located near Bergamo (castle, lake, mountains and the food is great). Keep in mind that each region, each province, each city, but above all, each family has their own version of this polenta recipe.
      That said, you need to make a soft polenta and add rather fatty cheeses and butter at the end after cooking. Here are the ingredients for 6 people:
      500 g (1.1 lb) polenta bramata
      200 g (7 oz) of toma cheese *
      200 g (7 oz) of fontina cheese
      200 g (7 oz) of unsalted butter
      2 liters of water
      1 1/2 tablespoon of coarse salt
      black pepper to taste

      * Toma cheese is a very fatty cheese typical of the Aosta valley, difficult to find outside Italy. Replace it with taleggio cheese.
      Let us know the result. Ciao!

      Reply

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