How to cook basic polenta, creamy or sturdy.
I suppose most of you have at least heard of polenta, but to tell you the truth, I know lots of people who actually never tasted polenta. If you happen to have a Romanian or Italian friend, I am pretty sure you got to taste polenta at least at their house, if not, well, it is time you do.
What is polenta? Polenta is a dish made from coarsely ground cornmeal. Some water and a bit of salt, a little bit of cooking and you’re done. You have an excellent, healthy and delicious meal. You can have polenta as a side dish for other dishes with sauce or it can be a meal in itself with just a bit of cheese and yogurt/creme fraiche/ sour cream on the side. And the possibilities of making a main dish using polenta are endless. You can make casseroles, you can grill it, you can bake it, you can fry it and so on. It goes well with any kind of meat, any kind of vegetable or dairy product.
Polenta is a staple in Romanian cooking. It has always been considered to be peasant food, but trust me, you will find polenta in any household in Romania, villages and cities alike. Interesting fact I found out while reading about polenta: the reason why it became so popular in the Romanian territories is that hundreds of years ago, when the Romanians were forced to pay tribute towards the Ottoman empire there were taxes to be paid on wheat but not on corn. So the people started cultivating and eating more polenta cooked from coarsely ground cornmeal in order to be able to escape the payment of so much taxes. Clever!
The traditional Romanian polenta is of a sturdier kind, a bit different from the Italian version you might know. That is the way my grandmother cooked her basic polenta and that is how I cook it most of the times myself. However, every now and then I like to make a softer, creamier polenta, especially when I intend to serve the polenta as a side dish for something with lots of sauce. The cooking procedure is the same, the only difference is the amount of water used.
I make polenta using only salted water most of the times, but if you like you can use half milk and half water or you can even cook the polenta in vegetable or chicken broth (made with organic bullion cubes). Salt is very important when making polenta. Read the instructions on the polenta packet and add the amount of salt required and maybe ¼ teaspoon more than that. Reduce the amount of salt only if you are cooking the polenta in broth.
The cornmeal used to make polenta comes in different textures: medium or coarse. Never use fine cornmeal to make polenta, I did once – it was not good. I usually prefer the coarse cornmeal/polenta I can buy at the Turkish store, it is the kind I used to eat in Romania. It has a longer cooking time – 40 to 50 minutes – than the polenta made of medium ground cornmeal, but it doesn’t matter, there is no extra work involved and I like to think that that is the original mamaliga I know from my childhood. However, from time to time I buy the medium polenta sold in the regular German supermarkets (which by the way is at least twice as pricy as the Turkish cornmeal). It tastes good as well and it has the advantage of being ready in only about 15 minutes. You decide which one you prefer, just consider the packet’s instructions when you cook the polenta. I have heard of instant polenta but never bought it and there is of course the ready cooked polenta, which I swear I won’t buy as long as I live! My grandma would probably turn in her grave if I did!
A few nutrition facts about polenta. First of all: it is really satiating. I cook only 250 g of cornmeal when I make polenta and it is always more than enough for a family of four who really loves polenta. And there are usually some leftovers which I either eat with milk for breakfast or fry with vegetables and eggs the next day. And yet 100 g cooked polenta only has 85 calories, I just googled that and instantly decided I will cook polenta even more often than I usually do. 🙂 And it is also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6 and has no cholesterol.
So, do give polenta a try! For the next two weeks I will only post polenta recipes and I hope you will find something you would like to try.
- Sturdy polenta:
- 250 g/ 8.8 oz/ 1⅔ cups coarse cornmeal
- 1 liter/ 33.8 fl.oz/ 4 ¼ cups water
- 1 ¼ teaspoons fine salt
- Soft polenta:
- 250 g/ 8.8 oz/ 1⅔ cups medium cornmeal
- 1.4 liter/ 47.3 fl.oz/ 6 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine salt
- The cooking procedure is the same for both kinds of polenta, you will only need more water when you make the softer polenta. You can use either medium or coarse ground cornmeal, but read the packet's instructions to make sure that you know the indicated cooking times. My coarse cornmeal needs 40 to 50 minutes and my medium cornmeal 15 minutes.
- Pour the water into a large pot. Heat the water but don't let it come to a boil (it helps against the formation of lumps). Add the salt. Slowly add the cornmeal while stirring or whisking (with an egg beater not a mixer) all the time. A word of caution - be careful when the polenta starts to bubble, if the bubbles are too big you might get burned – so turn the heat down if that happens. When all the cornmeal is incorporated, continue stirring or whisking shortly to make sure there are no lumps. Turn the heat down, place a lid on top but leave a crack open. Stir every 4-5 minutes or so but there is definitely no need to stir all the time.
- Read the cooking instructions on the polenta packet just to know for sure how long the cornmeal needs to be cooked. I cook the polenta made with coarse cornmeal for 40 to 50 minutes and the polenta made with medium cornmeal for about 15 minutes.
- Serve immediately or leave to cool if you want to use it in another way.
This post contains affiliate links. The price you pay as a consumer does not change, but if you make a purchase we will receive a commission which helps support the blog.
Others you might like: