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Polenta is a type of porridge that is made with coarse or medium-ground cornmeal that was originally made and is readily used in Northern Italian cooking.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: with tomato sauce, with white gravy, with shrimp, with greens, with cheese, you name it!
Some varieties of polenta include other types of grains, such as ground rice or buckwheat.
A coarse-ground polenta creates a thicker mix 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.
You may have seen “chubs” of polenta in the specialty foods section of the grocery that is very dense and sliceable—great for frying in a bit of oil in a pan and serving for breakfast.
What Does Polenta Taste Like?
This delectable and versatile dish tastes like a hearty corn porridge.
When the polenta is well cooked, it tastes mild and a bit sweet and creamy with a slightly gritty texture.
Think of it as a blank slate for lots of savory stews, chili, braised meats and more.
When it’s not well cooked, the cornmeal will still be rough and have a raw flavor.
The taste of cooked polenta also largely depends on the quality of the cornmeal that is used to prepare it.
How to Use Polenta
Polenta is versatile in the same way rice or pasta makes a good “bland” foundation for lots of delicious, savory sauces, greens, vegetables, stews, and other ingredients.
In the same way, polenta might be served in a big bowl as a side dish.
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 like you would with oatmeal and top it warm, 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 fresh polenta in your local grocery store.
- If you want to make homemade 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 “chub” 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 mix, 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 keeps out air and bugs.
If it’s not sealed properly, pests and moisture will ruin the polenta.
You don’t need to refrigerate unopened polenta mix.
However, for cooked polenta, you need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container and enjoy it within 2 to 3 days.
What is Polenta Made of?
Traditionally, polenta is made of coarsely stone-ground dried yellow corn kernels that come from flint corn, a heartier kid of corn. The kernels have a flaky texture.
While you can also make polenta from finely ground white or yellow cornmeal, the finished dish will have a pasty texture.
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.
The CookingChew.com Garlic Shrimp With Mushrooms goes well on top of or beside polenta.
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 meatloaf, our mild blackened chicken breast recipe, lamb, pork, and short ribs.
You can serve fried polenta with delectable marinara sauce or crush it and cook the crumbles in the air fryer to use 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.
We have even more suggestions for what to serve with polenta here.