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How to cook polenta

This versatile ground cornmeal isn’t always eaten as a soft, creamy dish – it works just as well as a pizza base.

Polenta is made from ground yellow or white cornmeal and it is a staple food in Northern Italy. It has long been associated with peasant food in Italy and it is now a popular ingredient in restaurants and homes here. Polenta is versatile and it can add variety to your menu. ‘Instant’ polenta is readily available from supermarkets and it’s quick and easy to prepare. Fine and coarse varieties are available and both are prepared in the same way. Polenta can be white or yellow – depending on whether it has been made with ground yellow or white cornmeal.

When cooked, polenta has a smooth, creamy texture. It can be served soft as an accompaniment to meat and other dishes – in a similar way to mashed potato. Polenta works particularly well with ‘saucy’ dishes such as slow-cooked casseroles. Or it can be allowed to set, then grilled and topped with cheese or vegetables and served as a type of pizza, or cut into pieces as a meal accompaniment. Polenta can also be chargrilled and served as a topping on stews and casseroles in a similar way to garlic bread.

Polenta has a subtle corn flavour which makes it the perfect food for mixing with stronger-flavoured ingredients such as Parmesan cheese or pesto sauce. Olive oil and fresh herbs such as basil complement polenta’s mild taste.

Find polenta in the supermarket or in specialty food stores. It’s usually found near the couscous, pasta and rice.

Step 1 Pour 3 cups water into a heavy-based pan with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to the boil. Gradually pour in 150g instant polenta, whisking continuously to ensure no lumps form.

Step 2 Reduce heat and continue cooking over a medium heat while continually whisking until thickened.

Step 3 Keep stirring for about 6-7 minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Use a spoon to stir in a figure of eight movement in the pan. Season with pepper and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Use as required.

To add extra flavour

  • Replace water with vegetable stock or a mix of water and stock.

Once soft polenta is cooked, vary the flavour by adding

  • freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, parsley or sage
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto or pesto
  • 1 teaspoon garlic purée

To grill polenta

Leave cooked soft polenta to cool in the pan to slightly thicken. Pour on a lightly-greased baking tray and spread out with a dampened knife. Leave to cool and set for 10 minutes. It can now be used as a pizza base or cut in triangles and grilled.

To chargrill polenta

Leave to set and cool completely. Cut in triangles. Spray with a little olive oil spray and chargrill on a hot, lightly-oiled griddle pan or non-stick pan for 3-4 minutes each side.

Polenta pizza

First published: Oct 2010



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