Polenta (the Italian version of corn grits), is a versatile grain which can be eaten plain, but it’s also the base for many recipes. If you have tried it soft, you might have been won over by its creamy consistency, but you can also grill, saute or bake with it creating a satisfyingly delicious crunchy crust on the outside.
You may have noticed prepared polenta in the grocery store next to the pastas in a sausage style tube. But the dry polenta can usually be found in the bulk grain section or the flour section of your grocery store (it might be labeled as coarsely ground corn meal).
Many people don’t make their own polenta and opt instead for the prepared version because they are under the assumption that it is time-consuming, but with these easy cooking instructions, you can prepare it at home with only a few minutes of hands-on prep time….I promise.
Although it may seem easier to use prepared polenta to save a few minutes, I encourage you to try this homemade version which you can easily whip up at home and I choose to do for numerous reasons:
1. Buying polenta dry in bulk is much cheaper than buying it pre-made in tubes.
2. It’s more convenient (for me at least) to store dry polenta in a jar in the pantry than it is to store the prepared version.
3. Dry polenta can also be used as an ingredient to add to breads, to thicken soups, etc. making it much more versatile than pre-made polenta.
4. The prepared polenta already has added salt and preservatives preventing you from fully controlling what’s in your food. Also, even though the store version has flavor options (e.g. sun-dried tomato), your flavor “add-in” options when making this at home are endless giving you much more room for creativity!
5. If you make rice at home, then you certainly have time to make polenta from scratch.
6. I do not personally find the sausage tube style polenta to be visually appetizing…which really tips the scales when deciding whether to buy it pre-made or make it myself.
1 cup dry polenta
4 cups water
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
You have many more options to boost the flavor: see the notes section to get some flavor ideas.
In a medium Saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. While stirring constantly, add polenta in a slow steady stream, being sure to continue mixing while adding the grain to prevent clumping.
Reduce heat to low and stir polenta every few minutes being sure to scrape sides and bottom.
After about 18-25 minutes of cooking over low heat, you will notice that when you stir it, the polenta pulls away from the sides of the saucepan. This is a sign that it’s done cooking. At this point, you can stir in cheese, or other “add-ins” and serve immediately as soft polenta.
See the Polenta Patty post for instructions on how to use polenta in other cooking methods.
Notes: Soft polenta is delicious plain served with fish, roasted veggies, marinara sauce and a little Parmesan cheese and (of course) a sprinkle or two of fresh cracked pepper. But, you can easily spice it up as well. Try cooking it in vegetable broth instead of water. You can also add minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and any combination of cheese. This basic grain has such a mellow flavor that it’s hard to mess it up. So go ahead– experiment with different flavors tailoring it to compliment the rest of the dishes you’re preparing!