How to cook polenta perfectly

When I think of polenta, I always think of it as the Italians equivalent to a hot comforting bowl of buttery mash potato. Before pasta made its mark across Italy, polenta was actually eaten in abundance in the northern hemisphere and was part of their daily diet. If you ask many Northern Italians today, many hold many nostalgic memories of their Nonna cooking and stirring polenta with a wooden stick for a few hours in a particular copper pot. These days it is no longer considered a staple food, but now enjoyed in a variety of recipes. But what is polenta?

What is Polenta

Polenta is cornmeal grounded from delicately flavoured maize. 

This wonderful grain can be found coarse  – ‘bramata‘ in the Alpine valleys; or fine – ‘fino’ in central Italy. It all depends on your final desired texture. Again it’s enjoyed white in the north-eastern regions or in Lombardy, it’s yellow. Again, different regions favour one to the other. However, when it comes to the UK, yellow coarse polenta is most commonly found. There are many ways to use polenta but before it can be enjoyed within any recipe, it must be cooked first.

How to cook polenta

Key tip: Four times liquid to polenta. For example, 200g of polenta requires 800ml of liquid

Polenta is originally cooked in water, but for a creamier consistency you can cook in milk or you could cook 50:50 water to milk. Traditionally, polenta is cooked for at least 45 minutes in a copper pot. However, instant polenta is pre-cooked and reduces the cooking time dramatically and being a London city girl, I find the instant style very convenient.

How to cook instant polenta: Bring your liquid to the boil. Season with salt. Then while stirring the water constantly with a wooden spoon, stream the polenta slowly into the liquid, letting it run through your hands slowly with the other hand. Ensure that you continue to stir for 1-2 mins with a wooden spoon.  As soon as all the polenta is integrated into the liquid, reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for 10/15 minutes untouched. Then give it lat one stir and your polenta is ready to be used.

Piping hot and soft

Polenta is commonly known to be served piping hot and soft. This is when it resembles most to creamy mash potato. As soon as the polenta has finished cooking as above, add parmesan and butter for a creamier texture.

  • Perfect to be served with braised meat or stewed fish
  • Add gorgonzola for a real northern Italian affair
Image: Jocooks.com

When cooled down

When the polenta has finished cooking, pour into a baking tray, spread it evenly. Let is cool down for about an hour and it will set.

Grilled polenta crostini

Cut the set polenta into the size of your desired crostini. Brush with olive oil on both sides and grill until browned. These are a great bruschetta or crostini alternative and topped with a variety of ingredients. I like serving with garlic fried mushrooms cooked in white wine, with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

Image: the Spruce eats
Fried Polenta chips.

Cut the polenta into ‘chip’ shapes. Heat a frying pan and add 0.5cm of vegetable/olive oil. When the olive oil has heated, add the polenta and fry until browned all over. Sprinkle on sea salt and a squeeze of lemon on top.

Polenta lasagna

When the Polenta has set, cut into polenta sheets to fit a baking dish. Top with ragu of your choice, top with grated parmesan and then place another polenta sheet and repeat as desired. The last layer should be polenta, brush with oil and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Image: Womans day

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