Traditional Italian polenta is basically porridge made with cornmeal, water or stock and patience; sometimes lots of patience because, for the best results, the cornmeal needs time to absorb the liquid and fully cook, which brings out the sweet corn flavor. The cornmeal can be ground coarse, medium or fine, but traditional Italian polenta is never instant or precooked and packaged in tubes. Polenta can become a healthy cook’s best friend because it’s endlessly versatile – you can serve it as a side dish or top it with meatballs and gravy, braised chicken and tomatoes, or grilled vegetables and a shaving or two of Parmesan cheese. You can also prepare firm polenta that’s then cut into squares or wedges and baked or grilled.
A few tips for the perfect polenta:
• For soft polenta, the ratio is typically 5 to 1 (liquid to cornmeal); for firm polenta, the ratio is around 4 to 1.
• Bring your liquid (water or stock) to a rapid boil and slowly whisk in the cornmeal; whisk constantly for the first minute or so, until the mixture thickens.
• Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to bubble/sputter gently for the entire cooking time.
• Stir every 5-10 minutes while cooking.
• Always check the liquid level and don’t allow the mixture to become too thick (it won’t cook properly).
• Depending on the cornmeal you’re using, allow up to 1 hour for fully cooked polenta (it may take less, but play it safe).
Creamy Polenta with Smoked Mozzarella
5 cups water, plus more as needed
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup shredded smoked mozzarella or Gouda cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often (this will take approximately 30-60 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter until melted and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Nutrition Info Per Serving
Total Fat: 4 grams
Saturated Fat: 2 grams
Total Carbohydrate: 22 grams
Sugars: 0 grams
Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 58 milligrams
Cholesterol: 10 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram
Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.