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Basic Soft Polenta


Serves 4-6 as a side dish

We tested this recipe with Quaker brand cornmeal; coarser cornmeal will need a slightly longer cooking time. Try topping the polenta with ratatouille, beef stew, or a chicken fricassée.

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter

In a heavy stainless-steel 3-quart saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add the salt and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve.

When the salted water is boiling, gradually add the cornmeal in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly. This is important; if you pour in the cornmeal too quickly, lumps may form. When all the cornmeal has been added, lower the heat to maintain a slow simmer.

Basic Soft Polenta Recipe

Cook, whisking occasionally to prevent sticking, and scraping the inside of the pot with a rubber spatula to incorporate any cornmeal that does stick. The polenta will bubble and spurt a bit.

Basic Soft Polenta Recipe

If the polenta gets too thick and starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, add a little warm water. The polenta is done when it’s very thick and creamy, with a texture that’s slightly rough but not gritty, 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the cornmeal. Taste a bit to check the texture. If it’s still gritty, add a little more water and continue cooking until the texture has softened. Stir in the butter, if using, and add more salt to taste. Serve immediately.


Mascarpone & Parmigiano Polenta: Omit butter, and gently whisk in 1/2 cup mascarpone in its place. Turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Thin the polenta with up to 1/2 cup water, if you like; add salt to taste. Scoop the polenta into a serving bowl, sprinkle with another 1 Tbs. of Parmigiano, and serve.

Polenta Rosa: Put 1 cup canned diced tomatoes in a fine sieve, set it over a bowl, and shake it to drain as much liquid as possible. Put the tomato liquid in a measuring cup; add water to get 4 cups total liquid. Pour the liquid into a heavy stainless-steel 3-quart saucepan, and proceed with the basic recipe, omitting the butter. When the polenta is thick and creamy, set it over low heat, and whisk in 1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced. Add 1/4 cup tomato paste (preferably Italian) and the canned diced tomatoes. Add 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano, and salt to taste.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on six servings, Calories (kcal): 120, Fat (kcal): 4, Fat Calories (g): 40, Saturated Fat (g): 2.5, Protein (g): 2, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 1, Carbohydrates (mg): 18, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 0.5, Sodium (g): 780, Cholesterol (g): 10, Fiber (g): 2,

Photo: Scott Phillips

I cooked the cornmeal (Pheasant brand polenta) in half water and half whole milk. (Keep an eye on it at the boil point, or it will boil over.) I thinned during the cooking process with some cream and some milk. After cooking, I added some minced basil I had frozen in olive oil, some fresh minced rosemary and grated Parmesan. Delicious! My husband, who doesn't care for polenta, even liked it.

Very easy to make. not as rich as polenta made with cream. Use the Mascarpone & Parmigiano or Rosa variations for a stand alone side. Basic is best served with dishes that have sauces or gravies.

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