What is polenta?
The Italian side dish polenta (pronounced “po-LEN-ta”) is a thick type of porridge made from ground maize, which is sometimes served in liquid form (all’onda), sometimes in a stiffened state. It can be eaten hot or cold. Once cooled, the stiffened porridge is usually diced, then baked or fried.
The history of the dish can be traced back to the seventeenth century when Venetian sailors brought maize from Canada for the first time. Polenta is grown and eaten a lot in northern Italy, in the Piedmont region. A version is also eaten in Corsica made with chestnut flour. Similar dishes were eaten in Roman and Greek times made from other grains: millet, buckwheat and spelt. These versions exist in Italian cuisine, although they are hardly ever seen outside the country.
Polenta was originally a food of the poor; it was filling and even cheaper than bread. It has since become elevated to ultimate comfort food and included in the cuisine of starred chefs.
Did you know...
The maize flour used for polenta is also used in baking recipes such as polenta cake. Canada, among other things, it is used to make cornbread.
How to make polenta
Polenta is made with one of two types of ground corn – fine and straw yellow or coarse and pale yellow – boiled in salted water. The cornmeal must be constantly stirred for fifteen minutes to an hour until the mixture is thick and the spoon stands up in the pan by itself.
Polenta was traditionally cooked in a copper pot over an open fire and stirred with a wooden stick. We now know that you can also make beautiful polenta in a regular pan on a regular stove with a normal spoon.
The thick porridge can be eaten immediately with butter and a cheese – Parmesan, gorgonzola or fontina – stirred in it. More often, it is spread in a thick layer and allowed to cool. The cooled polenta is stiff and can be cut into pieces. The cubes are reheated, usually by baking, grilling or deep frying, and then served as a side dish or with a sauce. Slices of polenta can also be used in lasagne, layered with meat sauce and baked in the oven.
How to eat
Eat polenta in small portions; it’s pretty filling.
In its simplest form, namely as porridge, polenta is very tasty with stewed meat.