One of my favorite staple dishes is polenta.
Polenta is a porridge of sorts made with ground cornmeal. It is very popular in Italy, where it became a staple when corn was introduced to Europe. It’s mild flavor makes it the perfect base for any number of sauces, vegetables, or what have you.
Traditionally, it was cooked in a copper pot called a paiolo over a wood stove or in a hearth, and stirred constantly for an hour or more. Although I would love to try my hand at the traditional methods, for daily cooking it’s seems a little out of reach. Luckily for me (and you!), there are other options! You can get pre-cooked (which is what we’re working with here today), as well as traditional, which comes in fine, medium, or coarse grinds.
Although purists would tell you that quick-cooking corn mush is heresy, I feel it’s no more evil than cooking with rolled oats instead of groats or steel-cut oats. The groats, and the “real” polenta have their place in the kitchen, but for a quick snack, instant works just fine. It’s a beautiful blank canvas on which you can paint a multitude of flavors!
Here is my absolute favorite way to enjoy polenta:
- 2 cups of water (preferably distilled or reverse osmosis! If you don’t have easy access to filtered water, tap water will do)
- 1/2 cup of quick-cooking polenta (buy in bulk at your local health food store if you can, this is much less expensive than pre-packaged)
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Raw or toasted walnuts
- Unsalted butter
Yesss! Four parts water to one part polenta. I know this seems like a lot of water, but trust me, you really do need that much! You can adjust this recipe to serve any number of people, as long as you use about four parts water to one part polenta. 1/4 cup dry, unprepared polenta will cook up to about one serving.
Add a pinch of salt to the water, and bring to a boil in a medium pot on your stovetop. Slowly pour in the polenta and immediately stir or whisk. Allow to simmer, stirring to prevent lumps, for about 5 minutes or until the polenta is thickened. You don’t have to stir “constantly” but it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
The polenta will be pourable as soon as it is cooked. If you allow it to cool, it will set and become firm and sliceable, which is great for leftovers! But for this recipe, use immediately. Pour into bowls, top with butter, salt, pepper, and crushed walnuts. I love raw walnuts with this recipe, but you can buy toasted, or toast your own in a dry cast iron pan over low heat until fragrant.
Eat immediately! If you have leftovers (or if you’ve made extra for later) you can let it firm up and then reheat it later. I pour my extras into a glass flat bottomed bowl with a lid (like gladware but glass instead of plastic!), then pop it into the fridge. Later on I’ll slice it, and fry it up as a side dish for dinner or just as a snack. Instant polenta doesn’t firm up as much as regular polenta does and tends to fall apart if treated roughly, so be careful when re-heating!
Thanks for reading! Stop back soon for more recipes!