Polenta has been our food crush so far this fall. There were quite a few recipes featuring polenta in last month's Quick Weeknight Meals contest, and we're just enamored of its easy, creamy goodness. But first, let's revisit the basics. What exactly is polenta anyway?
Polenta is simply coarsely ground cornmeal. Usually when polenta is referred to, though, it's referring to a thick, creamy porridge of cornmeal cooked with water, broth, or cream. This porridge is a wonderful base for meat or vegetables. It's also a terrific breakfast. Sometimes, too, when people say "polenta" they mean polenta porridge that's been cooled and allowed to harden, then cut into shapes and fried or baked. This is also very delicious. (We like it with maple syrup.)
Polenta, though, is not always made from corn, so the terminology does get a little confusing. Sometimes it's made from semolina, and in some places it has ground buckwheat mixed with the cornmeal. But in general, when you see "polenta" for sale, it's coarsely ground cornmeal.
We buy our cornmeal for making polenta from the bulk bin of stoneground cornmeal at our co-op — no need to get fancy about it. We've even made polenta from finely ground cornmeal, which has a slightly different final texture, but is just as delicious.
Which brings us to our point: Marcella Hazan's polenta. Polenta is like risotto: it has a reputation for needing lots and lots and lots of stirring. Constant stirring! This is supposed to keep out lumps and create a creamy texture. Well, we are lazy and fortunately Marcella Hazan's recipe enables us in that. She has a recipe that always turns out creamy, lump-free, and delicious.
It's very easy: you bring your water or stock to boiling, thoroughly whisk in the cornmeal, bit by bit, and then simmer it on low with a lid on. You do stir a couple of times, but mostly you just let it sit there and do its thing. Then take off the lid and ta-da! Perfect polenta. We don't know why we'd do it any other way.
We like to throw in a half cup of mascarpone cheese to make it extra-creamy, or Parmesan for a little more flavor. But that's gilding the lily, to be honest; polenta is so creamy all by itself it doesn't need much help.
• Get the recipe: Creamy Polenta from Marcella Hazan at Epicurious
How do you make polenta? Do you have any tried and true tricks for good polenta?
• Quick Weeknight Dinner Recipes with Polenta
• Good Question: What is Polenta?
• Recipe Review: Polenta with Andouille and Broccoli Rabe
(Images: Faith Durand)