Basic Polenta Recipe

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This creamy cornmeal dish is standard fare in Northern Italy and is a wonderful accompaniment for meat or vegetables. It can be used immediately when soft (something like mashed potatoes) or allowed to cool and firm up; it is then cut into strips or other shapes and fried or baked.
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Update Servings
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 3 cups water (use 4 cups for a softer polenta)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
Container:double boiler or improvised equivalent
5 mins
1.5 hrs
1.5 hrs
  • Put several inches of water in the bottom of a double boiler and bring to a simmer. In a separate container bring 3 cups water to a boil and put into the top of the double boiler. (See tip)
  • Mix cornmeal and salt; pour in a slow stream into the hot water in the top of the double boiler while whisking vigorously to prevent lumps. Stir for several minutes, then cover snugly. Maintain the water in the bottom at a simmer. Stir about every 10 minutes for a while, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan. Continue to cook for another hour, stirring once or twice. It will be very thick. If necessary, add more water to the bottom of the double boiler to keep it from running dry.
  • After about 1  1/2 hours total cooking time, taste for doneness - it should be very smooth, without any bitterness. Cook longer if there is any raw or bitter taste. When it tastes done, stir in the butter and/or the cheese, if using, and serve warm. (It will keep over warm water, covered, for an hour or more) or smooth into a baking pan to firm up to be cut into pieces for frying or baking. Refrigerate, if holding for long.
  • Tip: A double boiler can be improvised by putting a smaller pan inside a larger one. Use foil if the small pan doesn't have a cover.
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