Polenta is a delicious, easy-to-prepare corn dish, similar to grits. I love it for its quick prep time and creamy goodness. Try this quick and cheesy polenta recipe for a great dinner.
I first heard about polenta in the 90s when I worked at a fancy-schmancy restaurant in Santa Barbara. There they served it sliced and grilled. I tried it, and didn’t care for it.
But, I really wanted to like it.
After giving it the good old college try a few years ago, I’m a fan. In a big way. Here’s why:
Why I love polenta
Polenta is super versatile.
According to the New Food Lover’s Companion,
A staple of northern Italy, polenta is a mush made from cornmeal. It can be eaten hot with a little butter or cooled until firm, cut into squares and fried. Polenta is sometimes mixed with cheese such as Parmesan or Gorgonzola. It can be served as a first course or side dish and makes hearty breakfast fare.
I agree on all points. I’ve served it as a gluten-free alternative to pasta, piling it high with meatballs, meat sauce, or other Italian-style meats. I’ve enjoyed it as a side dish to sausage and greens. I’ve made polenta “pizzas”, by slicing the chilled leftover polenta — it firms up when cool — and topping it with sauce and cheese. I’ve reheated leftovers and topped it with a fried egg. Super good!
Polenta is quick and easy to make.
Polenta cooks up in less than half an hour, making it a quick fix base to many a meal. Just another delicious, quick dinner idea!
I vary the seasonings and the liquids I use to prepare it, based on what I have on hand. The recipe below is one of my favorites!
Is polenta gluten free?
Polenta is made of corn which is naturally gluten-free. However, keep in mind that corn is a grain that often becomes cross-contaminated with wheat and other gluten-containing grains.
Be sure to buy gluten-free polenta to ensure yours is without gluten.
What is polenta?
Polenta is essentially a cooked Italian porridge. Although it can be made with different grains, in general it’s made with cornmeal.
Be sure to use a bag of cornemal specifically labeled as “polenta” or “corn grits. It’s a coarser in texture than regular bag of cornmeal.
Polenta vs. Grits
Although both a c orn porridge they do have some signficant differences. Polenta is an Italian dish, where grits is an American dish that hails from the South. Both are made from dried corn. But polenta is coarser in texture.
Grits is also usually made from hominy, a version of dried corn that has undergone under a special chemical process. You can get the hominy 101 here from Spruce Eats. It’s the same process to make masa flour that’s used to make hHomemade corn tortillas.
Ingredients to make cheesy polenta
- Chicken stock – Store-bought or make your own like this my homemade Chicken Stock in the Slow Cooker.
- Milk – Low-fat or whole would work fine. I haven’t tried this with any dairy-free milk but I think it would work fine.
- Seasoning – Just some simple salt and pepper is all you need.
- Polenta – Be sure to use cornmeal bag labeled with “polenta” or “corn grits”
- Parmesan cheese – Shredded parmesan cheese, but asiago or romano works as well.
How to make polenta
Combine broth, milk, and salt. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the broth, milk, and salt. Bring to a low boil.
Add polenta. Stir in the polenta and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook, stirring, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.
Add butter and cheese. Stir in the butter and add the cheese in small amounts, stirring to incorporate well. Season to taste with pepper and serve.
How to reheat leftover polenta
If you have leftovers, you can store it in a closed container for up to 4 days. It will probably thicken, so just simply warm it up on the stovetop with a little bit more milk to thin it out again and get it back to a creamy consistency.
What do I serve with polenta?
This cheesy polenta is delicious with some simple roasted vegetables, sauteed mushrooms on top. I also love serving this instead of pasta. It works as a beautiful base like my Ragu with Sausage and Onions, easy vegetable bolognese or spicy turkey and sausage bolognese
Or try it with a Easy Mediterranean Grilled Steak, Baked Salmon in Foil, or with my easy grilled Shrimp on the Barbie .
Quick and Cheesy Polenta
- 3 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup polenta
- ¼ cup butter cut into cubes
- 3 oz Parmesan cheese (shredded) (¾ cup) can also use Asiago or Romano
- black pepper
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the broth, milk, and salt. Bring to a low boil.
- Stir in the polenta and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook, stirring, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.
- Stir in the butter and add the cheese in small amounts, stirring to incorporate well. Season to taste with pepper and serve.
- Nutritional values are approximate and are based on ¼ of the recipe.
- If you have leftovers, you can store it in a closed container for up to 4 days. It will probably thicken, so just simply warm it up on the stovetop with a little bit more milk to thin it out again and get it back to a creamy consistency.
Be sure to check out all the posts in the series: Quick Dinner Ideas.
I made polenta to have as a lunch dish for myself this week. I second your recommendation of serving it topped with a spaghetti sauce or a vegetable ragout. I buy a round container in the store marked corn meal. I also like it plain with lots of chrese.
Sounds like a yummy lunch! Thanks for leaving a review, Carol.
I’m from Alabama, so we eat grits here. The only way I like them is if they are cooked in chicken stock like your polenta. I always finish mine with Colby jack or cheddar cheese and they are so good. We eat them for breakfast, but also for shrimp and grits for dinner.
Rose @ Rose Bakes
My grandparents were extremely poor and we actually grew up eating “mush” for breakfast at their house. My MawMaw would just cook the cornmeal in water, then she’d add butter and salt and we’d eat it with fried eggs (or without). I prefer grits most of the time (southern girl) but sometimes I still make mush just because it’s a sentimental food to me. I didn’t know it was the same (or very similar to) as polenta until just a few years ago!
What would you say is the difference between grits and mush?
Rose @ Rose Bakes
Texture is the biggest thing! Grits are more… gritty?! The corn is ground more coarse for grits than corn meal (which is ground to a finer texture). So… corn meal is creamier and smooth when made into mush. The other thing is that a lot of cornmeal in grocery stores is actually “corn meal mix” (which is great for cornbread), but that means it has flour added to it. If you make mush (or polenta) with it, the flour slightly changes the texture and flavor, but it’s not a huge difference. 🙂
I love polenta, but am never sure what to buy. Can you use regular corn meal found in American grocery stores? Or should it be called polenta? Where do you buy yours? Thank you!
I usually buy mine through Amazon (linked above). I typically buy the cornmeal marked polenta, but I’ve heard that either can work, depending on the grind.