Creamy Polenta with Parmesan Cheese
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A creamy polenta recipe with Parmesan cheese. It’s simple, soft and so delicious! Cheesy polenta is a perfect base or side dish for savory roasted vegetables or slow-cooked meat sauces.
This polenta recipe makes perfect homemade polenta with Parmesan, with a creamy texture that has just the right amount of butter and cheese.
I’m sharing my go-to basic creamy polenta recipe, which is full of buttery, cheesy goodness. Read on to learn more about how to make polenta, with step-by-step instructions. You will love homemade polenta!
This post explains:
- What is polenta
- Ingredients needed for the recipe
- Which types of cornmeal to use for polenta
- How to make polenta
- What to serve with polenta
Next time you’re looking for a landing pad for a savory red-wine braised meat sauce or mushroom ragu that ISN’T mashed potatoes, try making polenta.
Once you master this easy method, you’ll be whipping up cheesy polenta whenever a craving hits.
It really is a simple process that requires just a few ingredients, a good heavy pot, whisk and/or a wooden spoon.
Learn about polenta
Polenta is an Italian dish, basically a porridge or mush, made with a type of ground corn (cornmeal) that’s ground to a medium or coarse consistency.
You might hear the word “polenta” used interchangeably to describe both the dish and the cornmeal used to make it, which can be confusing, but remember they are basically the same thing.
In different regions of Italy, polenta was traditionally made with a variety of ground cereal grains, such as rye, buckwheat, millet and semolina (a variety of wheat).
After yellow corn was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it thrived and grew especially well in northern Italy. Cornmeal polenta eventually became a staple peasant food throughout the Italian peninsula, along with pasta and rice.
Ingredients you need to make polenta:
- Water: The most basic liquid used to make polenta is plain water. Polenta can also be made with a mixture of water with milk and/or vegetable or chicken stock.
- Cornmeal: Stone-ground or coarse cornmeal is what you want for the most authentic, rustic polenta.
- Salt: Although Parmesan cheese adds savory umami flavor (and salt), polenta by itself is bland. I recommend plain fine sea salt or kosher salt.
- Butter: I love good high butterfat cultured butter as a finishing touch, but any unsalted butter will work in this recipe.
- Parmesan Cheese: If you can, use a chunk of Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself for the very best flavor. Or buy your cheese at a store that grinds it so you know it’s super-fresh.
Types of cornmeal to use for polenta
Polenta is usually milled from a special variety of field corn — dent corn or flint corn. It’s not the same type as the sweet corn we eat off the cob.
To make polenta, you can use these types of cornmeal (but not corn flour) interchangeably depending on your preference and availability.
Cornmeal for polenta ranges from coarse-textured “grits” to a more refined, medium-grind cornmeal. I don’t recommend using fine ground cornmeal to make polenta because it turns out sticky and pasty.
- Stone-ground: My personal fave, stone-ground cornmeal can be yellow or white, and is produced by literally grinding corn between two millstones. Stone-ground cornmeal makes a rustic polenta with a bit of texture, as it still has the bits of the whole grain, including the hull and germ. It has deep corn flavor.
- Coarse: Coarse cornmeal is somewhat gritty, similar to stoneground in that it has bits of grain visible. Coarse-ground cornmeal has a noticeable corn flavor and nubby texture.
- Medium: This type of cornmeal is ground to a finer consistency than coarse or stoneground kinds, with the kernel sifted out. If you prefer a super-smooth polenta and very creamy texture, this is the one to use.
What about instant polenta?
Instant polenta is a product that’s either very finely ground or has been pre-cooked and then dried before packaging. It’s more of a convenience food, and won’t work for this from-scratch polenta recipe.
Cornmeal is naturally gluten-free because it doesn’t contain wheat or gluten.
However, because cross-contamination can occur during processing, people who are very sensitive to gluten and those who have celiac disease should look for cornmeal that’s labeled and certified as gluten-free.
The classic ratio for polenta is one part cornmeal to four parts liquid. Because this recipe includes some milk, it tends makes a thicker, creamier polenta. So I use 5 parts total ratio of cornmeal to liquid for the perfect texture.
How to make creamy polenta, step by step:
Pro tips for the best creamy polenta:
- Buy coarse cornmeal to make polenta, not corn flour (corn flour is finely ground and will turn into a pasty mush).
- To make this creamy parmesan polenta without the need for constant stirring or sticky mess, choose a heavy-duty Dutch Oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan. One that has 3 or 4 quarts capacity is ideal. A sturdy pan will retain heat better, allowing the thickened polenta to cook at a low temperature without sticking or scorching.
- To avoid lumpy polenta: Bring the liquid to a boil, then gradually add the cornmeal in a thin stream — you can do this either by pouring it out of a small bowl or measuring cup with a spout or with your hands, letting the grain fall through your fingers. Pour in the polenta with one hand while whisking with the other (this your chance to practice hand-eye coordination).
- Once all the cornmeal is in the pan, it will almost immediately start to thicken and boil. This is when you turn the heat down as low as your stove will go. Stir the polenta once or twice, then cover the pan and let it cook mostly undisturbed for 25-35 minutes. Check on it and stir the polenta two or three times during that time.
- Be generous with the butter and Parmesan cheese when you make polenta. It’s a perfect neutral canvas for cheesy, creamy additions!
How to make polenta cakes:
The good news about making a batch of polenta is that leftovers are awesome! Polenta firms as it cools, making it ideal to fry, bake or grill. Note: If you want fry or grill leftover polenta, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe to 3 1/2 cups.
- Spread freshly made hot polenta into a baking dish, loaf pan or small rimmed baking sheet. Cool and refrigerate until firm.
- Slice into portions and pan fry in a cast iron or nonstick pan with a little olive oil until brown on both sides.
Leftover polenta is easily reheated:
In a saucepan, combine 2-3 tablespoons liquid for each 1 cup of polenta.
The liquid can be milk (unsweetened oat or almond milk will work too), cream, broth, water or a mixture.
Stir to break up the clumps, cover the pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Add additional butter, cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
More polenta recipes:
Now that you made it, you might wonder what to serve with polenta. I think a bowl of polenta is perfect served simply with one or two delicious vegetable side dishes.
Of course, creamy polenta is perfect in a bowl all by itself, topped with a rich and spicy tomato sauce, sauteed broccoli, or simply with butter and more cheese. It’s also the ideal base for saucy stews and slow-cooked meat or poultry.
More polenta meals:
- Quick Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Roasted Vegetables with Parmesan Polenta
- Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
- Tomato Basil Shrimp and Polenta
- Easy Mushroom Ragu
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Creamy Polenta with Parmesan Cheese Recipe
- 4 cups (1 l) water
- 1 cup (250 ml) milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt *see note on salt below
- 1 cup (160 g) coarse or medium-grind cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons (45 g) butter
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or parsley, optional
- Bring the water and milk to a boil in a heavy-duty sauce pan or small Dutch oven. Stir in the salt.
- Gradually sprinkle the polenta into the pan while whisking at the same time. Turn the heat to a very low simmer, cover and continue to cook the polenta for 25-35 minutes, until it's thick, fluffy and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- When it’s done, remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese and additional salt to taste if needed.
- Serve warm, sprinkled with rosemary and additional cheese, if desired.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- If you want fry or grill leftover polenta, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe to 3 1/2 cups, which will produce a thicker consistency. To make polenta cakes, pour the freshly made hot polenta into a baking dish or sheet pan. Spread the top evenly, cool and refrigerate until firm. Slice or cut into portions with a cookie/biscuit cutter. Pan-fry in a cast iron or non stick pan with a little olive oil until brown on both sides.
- Use stock or broth in place of some of the water for richer flavor. Milk adds a somewhat creamier texture, but it can be substituted with your choice of water, stock or unsweetened plant-based milk if you prefer.
- Note on salt: This recipe calls for kosher salt, which has larger, fluffier granules and less sodium per volume than fine table salt. If you don’t have kosher salt, reduce the amount in the recipe by half.
Hey, I’m Karen
Creator of Familystyle Food
I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about creating elevated dinners with everyday ingredients. Find simplified recipes made from scratch and enjoy incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.
This was absolutely phenomenal. I used Bob’s Red Mill medium grind and it was perfect. I added less butter and the fresh rosemary was key. Hesitant about salt, I seasoned as I went. Mine cooked much faster than 35 minutes, I could of had it on the table in 20!
Served with William Sonoma short rib recipe, brussels and crusty ciabatta. WOW.
I’m 76.Was always hesitant so I never cooked polenta.I had some nice short ribs so Choose your recipe.Im amazed at how easy it was.No sticking,no clumping.I could taste the parmesan and the touch of Rosemary.Im saving some to try sauteing it for another meal.You ve made me a convert
Carolyn, thank you for sharing your comment. I am so glad you enjoyed the polenta!
So easy and delicious! Thanks!
I don’t use any of those accounts. Wish you had email so I could mail it to myself.
Hi Mackenzie – I just added an email button.
Amazingly simple and delicious recipe. Everyone is going to have their own opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do when making “authentic” polenta (e.g., my grandmother says don’t use milk/don’t put the cornmeal in boiling liquid)….WELL, I tried this recipe and it works, and I’m a novice cook/first timer making polenta. I added the cornmeal gradually as per the recipe and it came out with NO lumps, and was super creamy and flavourful due to the milk and cheese. Thank you so much for sharing this, and also sharing ways to reheat it.
Absolutely delicious polenta. I served with wine braised short ribs. The consistency was perfect, just the right amount of cheese. I added one cup of milk and one cup of chicken broth with 3 cups water. Very tasty. Thanks!
I love it with short ribs too!
idk how much salt to put, but nice recipe.
Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, then when the polenta is done you can taste and add more if needed.
I love polenta and this was delicious. Just the right amount of cheese. Planning to pair it with pork verde.
Pork verde sounds amazing!!
This recipe does not say how much water to use.
Hi Robbie – The recipe calls for 4 cups water + 1 cup milk (or additional water if you prefer).
I literally made this polenta. I am making a shrimp dish tomorrow and I needed a side dish and this will work beautifully. I did a trial run today and you can eat this as is. It is so creamy and flavorful!
Thank you for sharing the recipe!
That’s amazing! Thanks for letting me know Teresita.
How much salt is “lots of salt”!
This was incredibly easy and delicious. I paired it with short ribs and the sauce from those, combined with the Polenta, was truly heaven on a plate! Thanks so much for posting this.
Short ribs and parm polenta is favorite. Making with lamb shanks today. Meatballs and polenta is a nice change from spaghetti and meatballs.
I paired this with grilled tilapia for a savory breakfast. This was devine!
Absolutely perfect! I did use half homemade chicken broth with half water then followed the rest of your recipe. Served Dover Sole Meunière over top. My husband said, “This is company worthy!”
Wow so glad to hear that Sallie!!
Hi Karen: I made this dish for friends, their daughter and her fiancè. It was a total hit – so tasty and such a depth of flavor! My one problem was with the polenta. It too was really tasty but, after cooking it for 15 minutes more than the recipe called for, it was still not thickened like it should have been.
I left the cover off after about 20 minutes so I could stir it while making the ragu. Should I have covered it between stirs?
Thanks. I will make this again!
Hi Gloria – I’m so glad you liked the flavors and it was a hit with your family! I’m not really sure why the polenta took longer to thicken for you. Possibly the heat was too low? The polenta should bubble slowly while cooking (as opposed to boiling) so maybe that’s what happened. You shouldn’t need to cook it uncovered.
My grandparents are Italian. When we were kids, we ate polenta for special occasions. I thought I would try this recipe out of curiosity and to no surprise, I’m disappointed. Polenta from my grandmother’s background is made with water, fine cornmeal, parmesan cheese, butter, potatoes and salt for the water. It takes about 30-40 minutes to cook to get the perfect consistency. While yours is a creamy style polenta, ours can be spread onto a wooden board, covered with sausage, ribs, garlic, oil, and more parmesan. It solidifies but is creamy at the same time. Your recipe calls for way too much salt. The coarse cornmeal never dissolves which leaves me with a grainy texture, while ours is creamy and smooth. I could have eaten it had it not been so salty (I followed your recipe exactly) Italian cooking is different to everyone, but when you’ve had homemade Italian food your whole life, nothing compares, not even in restaurants.
Hi Sabrina – I really appreciate your comment. My grandparents were all Italian, but they were from the south and didn’t have polenta in their tradition. I know that once you taste the food of your grandmothers, nothing else can compare! As for the saltiness, I wonder if you used kosher salt or table salt when you made the polenta? That could make a big difference, as table salt is much saltier than kosher or flakier sea salt.
Such perfect polenta, it looks so creamy and delicious!
Thanks Laura! It’s a little too delicious if you know what I mean!