April 22, 2009

Back to Basics: Polenta

Polenta is a recent discovery of ours. I've known about it for a long time, but never really tried it. If you haven't and you like corn, you should give it a try. Polenta is basically boiled cornmeal. Those in the Southern US may recognize a similar dish called grits. Polenta is enjoyed throughout Italy and Eastern Europe.

Polenta is typically made one of two ways: either as a porridge, or allowed to firm up which can then be sliced and cooked again. While we do eat the porridge style of polenta for breakfast, we also like the type that is firmed up. Afterward, it has a consistency of tofu and can be sliced or cubed. These can then be sauteed or grilled.

You may have seen tubes of pre-made polenta in the grocery. While this seems convenient, think about it: It's in a plastic tube. Sitting on the shelf. For months. Maybe even years. That's really gross, especially since you can make it at home relatively quickly.

To make polenta, all you need is coarse grits. I prefer the yellow ones, but white grits will do. Don't use quick-cooking grits. Polenta can be customized in hundreds of different ways: using various herbs, chunks of vegetables, etc. For this recipe, we throw in some corn kernels for extra corniness, and some thyme. Other herbs-- such as oregano, marjoram, etc --work just as well. You could also drop in some sun-dried tomatoes, or olives, or whatever you fancy.

We like fairly plain and simple food. Once the polenta is done, we like to either grill it or quickly pan-fry it. Add a little pasta sauce and a sprinkle of cheese and you have a meal!

Here is what the polenta looks like after firming up. It's almost like a grits jello:

Polenta with Corn and Thyme


2 T olive oil
1¼ t salt
1 c corn grits
1 c corn kernels
1 t fresh thyme leaves (or ½ t dried)


1. Bring 3½ c water to boil in large saucepan. Add oil and salt. Whisk in corn grits slowly until smooth and mixture returns to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add corn kernels and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until polenta pulls away from the sides of the pot. Stir in thyme.

3. Pour polenta into a pie plate or baking dish. Set aside until firm.

4. When firm cut into desrired shapes. Can then be pan fried, grilled, or simply heated in an oven.

Here a sample application of polenta. Pan fried in a little olive oil, drizzled with pasta sauce, and draped with a slice of mozzarella cheese:

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