Let’s talk polenta. Less coarse than grits but grainier than mashed potatoes, polenta is made from cornmeal and boiled with water or stock until thick and combined. From here you can add any number of ingredients — like cream, butter, cheeses, fresh vegetables and herbs — to transform it into a hearty, rich dish. You could also let the polenta cool completely then shape it and bake or deep-fry it. Giada’s Fried Polenta fingers are deliciously warm and cheesy, and when dunked in marinara sauce, they mimic classic mozzarella sticks.
Food Network Magazine’s polenta (pictured above) is traditional and rustic, cooked on the stove until it becomes soft and creamy. This Italian-inspired recipe calls for instant polenta, which tastes the same as the original but cuts down on long cooking times. Before serving, top each comforting bowl with tender Swiss chard, sweet roasted tomatoes and mild, crumbly farmer cheese.
Get the recipe: Polenta With Roasted Tomatoes
Meatless Monday, an international movement, encourages people everywhere to cut meat one day a week for personal and planetary health. Browse more Meatless Monday recipes.
Until just a few years ago, I thought that all polenta came precooked and wrapped firmly in plastic. When I was in college, my roommates and I would occasionally buy it packaged that way. Once we sawed through the wrapper, we’d cut it into thick rounds and cook those slices in butter until they were crisp and warmed through. Topped with some jarred marinara sauce, we thought it was QUITE the sophisticated meal.
There is nothing wrong with that kind of polenta, but once you taste the freshly cooked kind, all creamy and enriched with Parmesan cheese and a dab of butter, well, there’s no going back. It’s one of my pantry staples, because it can help unify a few leftover odds and ends into a really good meal. My favorite thing to do is top polenta with some pan-wilted spinach and a couple poached eggs. It’s an almost-instant dinner.
I’ve also found that polenta dishes are excellent to share with new parents. They reheat well, last for days in the fridge and are edible comfort for the sleep-deprived.
Get the recipe
Most people consider polenta a restaurant food. Because as good as this creamy, cheesy Italian staple is, few of us have the hour needed to crank it out.
But hidden on the grocer’s shelves is a shortcut that can help get polenta on your dinner table any day of the week in minutes: prepared polenta. Which is different — and far better than — a related product known as instant polenta.
But first, some polenta basics.
Polenta is a traditional starch in Italian cooking, an alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes that pairs deliciously well with robust sauces and meats.
Polenta is made by slowly simmering and stirring cornmeal with chicken broth or water. It’s usually also seasoned with Parmesan cheese and butter.
Get the recipe for Spicy Pork With Polenta »