Polenta Basics

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A staple in northern Italy and sometimes known as “Italian grits,” polenta is made from coarsely ground cornmeal. It can also be made with stone-ground dried legumes, such as chickpeas and fava beans.

As a soft, just cooked porridge, polenta is a blank canvas. It brings sweet corn taste and texture to any dish, and takes on flavors of complementary ingredients. Traditionally, polenta is slowly cooked on the stovetop over low heat. Or, it can be baked or put under the broiler until brown and crispy.

Appreciated for its versatility, soft polenta can be served creamy with poached eggs and cheese, or combined with flour to make hearty pancakes. It can be poured into a baking dish, baked, cut into small pieces, and then topped with a creative ingredient such as a tapenade. The possibilities don’t end with savory selections: It can be made into a cake, similar to pound cake, and then served with figs for an Italian touch.

Whether it’s simply stirred with butter and cheese to make a creamy porridge, or allowed to set and added to a variety of dishes, polenta is a favorite of vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.