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What is polenta and why you will love it

If your childhood was not spent with a big Italian family who tried recipes passed down from older generations, then you might not be familiar with the ever-versatile polenta. 

I learned to cook with Polenta only recently and this magical dish has truly changed the way I serve various foods. I now use it as a substitute for rice, pasta, croutons, mashed potatoes, and whatnot. 

This is why I can’t wait to share with you everything that polenta has to offer! 

Read on to find out, “what is polenta?”

What Is Polenta?

Polenta is a type of porridge that is made with coarse or medium-ground cornmeal that was originally made and is readily used in Northern Italian cooking. Initially, polenta was considered as food for the peasants,  but now, it is a gourmet dish. You can easily find polenta varieties on the menus of different restaurants.

Some varieties of polenta include other types of grains, such as ground rice or buckwheat. A coarse-ground polenta creates a thicker mixture that is ideal for baking and frying, while a medium-ground polenta creates a creamier texture that goes perfectly with slow-roasted meats and stews.

What Does Polenta Taste Like?

This delectable and versatile dish tastes like a hearty corn porridge. When the polenta is well cooked, it tastes a bit sweet.

When it’s not well cooked, it’ll taste raw and bitter. The taste of cooked polenta also largely depends on the quality of the cornmeal that is used to prepare it.

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How to Use Polenta

You can use polenta in a large variety of ways. It is often served as a thick yet soft mush that’s topped with a hearty ragoût, sauce, or cheese. You can cook polenta and have it as is or refrigerate it and cut it into various shapes, such as rounds, wedges, squares, which you can then grill, bake, or pan-fry. 

Moreover, you can serve soft polenta with various cheese and herbs. You can also use it as a base for a wide range of vegetarian main dishes and top it with sauces. 

Also, polenta is a great substitute for rice or pasta in a dish and goes perfectly with various stews, meat sauces, or chili. 

Additionally, if you want a hearty breakfast cereal, then you can use soft-cooked polenta and top it with chopped nuts, sliced fruits, and milk. 

You can use baked polenta rounds as a solid base for various appetizers. Precooked or homemade polenta can also be used in casseroles. You can also replace the puff pastry topping on pot pies with baked polenta.

Tips on Buying Polenta

Here are some tips on buying polenta:

  • Polenta is essentially ground cornmeal, so if you want to buy polenta, then look for coarsely-ground cornmeal or packaged polenta in your local grocery store in the baking aisle.
  • If you want to make polenta, then don’t buy finely ground cornmeal or corn flour, which will result in a pasty dish.
  • You can also opt for instant or quick-cooking polenta, which has been pre-processed to significantly cut down its cooking time. With that said, it might lack some of the consistency and flavor of regular polenta.
  • If you are looking for a quick solution, then opt for prepared polenta. It comes in tube-shaped packaging, and you can easily slice it or fry, grill, sauté, or bake it.
  • If you are looking to buy polenta in bulk, then your best option is to buy a huge quantity of ground cornmeal from a restaurant or club supply store.

How to Store Polenta

For uncooked polenta, you can store it in a cool, dry area of your pantry for around two years. Make sure that you take proper measures to seal any open package of polenta so that it stays fresh. 

If it’s not sealed properly, pests and moisture will ruin the polenta. You don’t need to refrigerate unopened, precooked polenta. However, for cooked polenta, you need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container and have it within 2 to 3 days.

What is Polenta Made of?

Traditionally, Polenta is made of stone-ground dried, coarse yellow corn kernels that come from flint corn, a heartier kid of corn formerly found in Italy. The kernels have a flaky texture. 

You can also make polenta from finely ground white or yellow cornmeal. With that said, the finished dish will have a pasty texture due to the fine grounds. 

Before grain was introduced, starches such as chestnut flour, chickpea flour, hulled wheat, and farro were also used to make the grain that was used to prepare polenta.

What to Serve With Polenta

There are various dishes and food items that you can serve with polenta, including sautéed mushrooms, poached eggs, and stir-fried veggies, such as eggplants and squash. 

It is also the perfect side dish for slow-roasted meat, such as pot roast or various stew varieties. You can serve pork chops on a base of parmesan polenta

You can also serve soft-cooked polenta with meatloaves, chicken breast, lamb, pork, and short ribs. You can serve fried polenta with delectable marinara sauce or crush it and use it as a crispy ingredient in various salads.

The Bottom Line

I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on, “What Is Polenta?” and that you have found new ideas to cook this versatile porridge. Do give this Italian dish a try and experiment with the different ways in which you can cook and serve polenta.

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