Learn how to make the best creamy polenta. It’s easy, cheesy and so delicious!
This is my go-to basic recipe for cheesy polenta.
It makes polenta with the best, perfectly creamy texture and has just the right amount of butter and Parmesan cheese.
Don’t be afraid to make homemade polenta! It really is a simple process that requires just a few ingredients.
Once you master this easy method, you’ll be whipping up polenta whenever a craving hits.
Read on to learn more about how to make polenta, with step-by-step instructions.
What is 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 corn was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it thrived and grew especially well in the north of Italy.
Cornmeal polenta eventually became a staple peasant food throughout the Italian peninsula.
What kind of cornmeal to use for polenta
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 pasty.
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.
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.
Where to buy cornmeal for polenta:
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.
Is polenta gluten free?
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.
How to cook perfect creamy polenta, step by step
- 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.
- 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 – 30 minutes. Check on it and stir the polenta once or twice 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.
Spread freshly made hot polenta into a baking dish or sheet pan, 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.
What to serve with polenta:
Polenta is perfect in a bowl all by itself, topped with butter and cheese.
It’s great alongside saucy stews and slow-cooked meat or poultry.
If you want more of one-dish meal or side, try these recipes:
- Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Roasted Vegetables with Parmesan Polenta
- Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
- Easy Mushroom Ragu with Parmesan Polenta
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup milk
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup coarse or medium-grind cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring the water and milk to a boil in a heavy-duty sauce pan or small Dutch oven. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons 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 - 30 minutes, until it's thick, fluffy and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir occasionally 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 additional cheese if desired.
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.
Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Cornmeal - 24 oz - 3 Pack
AmazonBasics Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven - 4.5-Quart, White
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 180 Total Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 6g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 26mg Sodium: 328mg Carbohydrates: 19g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 0g Protein: 6g
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Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
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