What Is Polenta?

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Let's say you're getting ready to try a new recipe for a dinner party coming up. You know you want to experiment with a dish you've never tried before, but you're not sure what to go with. Do you want to test out Japanese cuisine or something Italian? 

Sticking to your typical menu can get old after a while. When it's time to try something new, you can feel overwhelmed by the possibilities, especially after seeing recipes that include hours of preparatory work and cooking time. What if you found a simple option that was easy to make and wouldn't keep you in the kitchen for hours?

One uncomplicated dish you can prepare for your friends is polenta. This gluten-free dish can make a terrific addition to your dinner, and it's easy to make, too. We'll show you everything you need to know about polenta and how to prepare it. Then, we'll talk about how we can make finding recipes and grocery shopping easier for you at Jow. 

What Kind of Food Is Polenta?

If you've never heard of polenta, you could be wondering what kind of dish this is. By the looks of it, you may think it's similar to mashed potatoes or hummus. In its baked form, it can look similar to a cake consistency. When it's fried, it can look like a hash brown. So what is polenta, really?

When it comes to its components, polenta is ground cornmeal. Some say it tastes different depending on how fine its consistency is, and polenta can contain fine, medium, or coarse-ground cornmeal. It’s generally made with yellow maize, but that varies.

There are many kinds of polenta dishes that combine cornmeal and other grains. Many people confuse this dish with other foods, so knowing what distinguishes polenta is an excellent way to avoid confusion. Additionally, learning more about what kind of food polenta is can help you enjoy it even more. 

Polenta Is Traditionally a Breakfast Meal

When you think of breakfast, what comes to mind? Some people prepare popular options like fluffy pancakes on Saturday mornings. Others may prefer uncommon (but entirely delicious) breakfast foods like roasted pears with honey and yogurt

Many individuals prefer savory foods to wake them up in the mornings. They may reach for hearty breakfast sandwiches or eggs and toast. Did you know that polenta can be a sweet or savory breakfast dish?

Many people think of polenta as a substitute for porridge. Polenta makes for an excellent breakfast dish since it has a similar consistency to oatmeal, grits, cornmeal mush, and other warm breakfast cereals. 

As we mentioned, when people enjoy polenta for breakfast, they may incorporate toppings to add different flavors to their meal. For example, many people appreciate polenta for breakfast with maple syrup, dried fruit, nuts, milk, or honey. Sometimes, people will also add brown sugar and vanilla for a sweet polenta breakfast treat.

Others enjoy savory breakfast polenta dishes. They may include avocado, potatoes, bacon, shredded cheese, and a boiled egg. Experimenting with polenta for breakfast can be fun! You can start with one of our polenta recipes or craft your own. 

Polenta Is Italian in Origin 

Polenta is an Italian dish dating back to the 16th century. When you think of Italian food, your mind might start filling with images of lasagna, creamy noodles, and spicy sausage. However, polenta is an authentic Italian dish, too!

The most genuine polenta comes from eight-row flint corn, or "otto file." In Southern and Central Italy, people flock to pasta dishes at dinnertime. In Northern Italy, people tend to prefer rice and polenta for their savory meals.

Historically, many Italian families have eaten polenta prepared from a paiolo (a tapered copper pan). The families would also eat this dish family-style from a large wooden board with dinner guests helping themselves to food from the table.

Did you know polenta dates back even further? Ancient Romans used to prepare a dish called puls, which is grains boiled and sprinkled with salt. This food consisted of ground barley, fava beans, buckwheat, rye, or spelt. This dish laid the groundwork for polenta.

People first began to grow corn in the 1500s, when it quickly became a valuable food resource for many. Many people preferred corn boiled, but as corn grew in popularity, people began to create new ways to eat corn. Eventually, people started to replace grain-based puls with cornmeal. Polenta was born from that creativity.

Some popular ways Italians have eaten polenta is with butter and cheese. Others prefer meat sauce with this dish, and many more put their unique spin on this dish by grilling, frying, or baking the polenta to a different consistency. After you learn how to make basic polenta, mastering these alternative cooking methods can allow you to experience this food to its fullest potential.

Polenta Is Gluten-Free

Food sensitivities can limit some people's diets, so they have to think creatively to enjoy traditional meals. If you're sensitive to gluten, you'll know that foods containing wheat, barley, and rye are out of the question for you. You may find it challenging to find Italian dishes you can enjoy since many meals contain noodles and bread with a wheat base. 

One good thing about polenta is its gluten-free nature. When you're looking for a kind of food you can enjoy in multiple ways, polenta is an easy go-to base you can try with Italian dishes and many others. 

How Is Polenta Different From Grits?

It's easy to get these two foods confused. Grits and polenta look a lot alike, and their consistency tends to be similar, too. To be fair, their origins are almost the same, with one key difference. While grits originate from white corn, polenta originates from ground yellow corn. 

The way you cook these dishes also impacts the way they taste. While grits tend to have a jelly-like consistency, polenta is slightly thicker. Many people also eat grits as strictly a breakfast meal, whereas polenta has a more extensive range as a breakfast, dinner, or side dish.

How Is Polenta Different From Semolina?

Many people also have difficulty distinguishing between polenta and semolina. The main difference is that, while semolina is a coarsely-ground substance, it derives from wheat rather than corn, meaning it contains gluten. 

Still, both these foods can make for delicious combinations when you follow delicious, easy recipes!

Polenta Variations You Can Try

You don't have to make polenta one way. Learning multiple ways to make polenta can open up a new world of new dishes to enjoy. Whether you bake, fry, grill, or cook it stovetop, polenta is an exciting addition to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are a few popular variations you can try when exploring all the ways to prepare this Italian dish. 

Polenta Cake

When looking for different ways to make polenta, you don't always have to go savory. Polenta cake is an option! 

There's no limit to the kinds of tasty cakes you can make with polenta as your base. Try fruit toppings or creamy frosting. Experimenting with this style of cooking polenta can introduce you to a brand new gluten-free dessert option.

Polenta Log

Sometimes, life gets busy. You may realize that you don't have time to turn that ground cornmeal into polenta for your dinner. When you're in a hurry, some grocery stores may offer polenta logs! 

These logs are pre-cooked servings of polenta. They come in a log-shaped container, making it convenient to slice and fry them if you'd like a savory side to your meal.

Fried Polenta

Sometimes, eating fries as a side for your meal can get boring. When you want to try a new crispy side to enjoy with your dinner, give fried polenta a whirl. 

To try this side dish, make polenta and let it cool in your refrigerator for a couple of hours. Then, cut the chilled polenta into rectangles or circles and fry them in a skillet. The fried polenta bites develop a flaky, crisp layer on the outside, making them a delicious complement to your main dish.

How Does Polenta Taste?

If you've never tried polenta before, you may be wondering what to expect. Since this dish contains cornmeal, you'll recognize a corn flavor – hearty and semi-sweet. Additionally, since it has a similar consistency to grits, you may notice that texture along with the flavors. 

What Do You Serve Polenta With?

You can make polenta in several various ways. As a result, you'll find that there are many combinations you can serve alongside polenta. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

How To Make Polenta

We hope you're getting excited about trying this famous dish that has remained tried and true through multiple centuries. There's no shortage of ways to enjoy this dish, and learning how to make it for yourself is just the beginning. 

Let's talk about one easy way to make polenta. Then, we'll show you a few of our favorite polenta recipes that are super easy to add to your meal rotation. 

To make the polenta:

  1. Add six cups of water to a large saucepan or pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, then add two teaspoons of salt.
  3. Carefully begin to gradually whisk one cup of polenta cornmeal into the boiling water.
  4. Bring the heat down to a simmer and cook the polenta until the cornmeal is tender and it reaches a thick consistency without lumps.
  5. Continue to stir this mixture for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat.
  6. Add around three tablespoons of butter, and stir it until it melts into the polenta.

While whisking your cornmeal into the boiling water, you'll want to go slowly to avoid accidental burns. You can also substitute water for milk or chicken stock to add more flavor profiles to the equation.

Polenta Recipes You Can Try This Week

Now that you know a quick way to make a variation of polenta, let's get to cooking! At Jow, we're happy to offer you a variety of mouth-watering recipes that are quick and easy for you to make at home. 

Here are a few of our favorite polenta recipes we've put together just for you.

Roasted Polenta Cakes

Want to try your hand at polenta cakes? It's easier than you might think. 

Our roasted polenta cakes combine sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, arugula, and zingy parmesan cheese to create a roasted meal you'll love. You only need a few ingredients, and you can go from preparing this dish in the oven to eating it in under thirty minutes. 

Polenta With Summer Veggies

Do you ever find yourself craving fresh ingredients and creamy textures simultaneously? Our polenta with summer veggies combines sautéed zucchini, thyme, and cherry tomatoes with polenta, milk, and garlic to create a perfect blend of crisp and creamy flavors. 

Enjoy this creamy polenta dish when you want a light meal that's different from your typical menu. The preparation work is minimal, too. You can enjoy this dish in under twenty-five minutes. 

Steak and Cheddar Polenta

This savory protein-rich dish includes creamy cheese, hearty steak, and of course, polenta. The prep time isn't long at all, so you can enjoy this dish with only twenty minutes of prep time. The bell peppers on top of our steak and cheddar polenta only make this dish more exciting!

Other Italian Recipes You Can Try

Trying polenta can be the start of many delicious recipes. However, let's say you're in the mood to try a few non-polenta Italian dishes now. After exploring the world of polenta, you may find you'd like to learn about more Italian-inspired meals to expand your recipe book. 

Here are a few of our favorites at Jow:

How To Save Time on Your Grocery Order This Week

Let's face it. You don't always have two extra hours to curate the perfect grocery list and search around the store for all your ingredients. Making dinner should be exciting, and shopping for groceries shouldn't take the fun out of preparing tasty meals!

On top of that, you might find it challenging to find recipes that include the foods you bought at the grocery store last week. That can take even more of your precious time and leave you scrambling back to the store for ingredients you may have missed. 

At Jow, we want to help take care of the time-consuming elements of preparing food. Simply select your favorite recipes from our selection, and we'll add all the groceries you need to a cart you can have shipped to your doorstep or pick-up locally. Then, when you're ready to make new dishes, all you have to focus on is enjoying the process!


Polenta: A Better Word for Mush | University of Illinois

8 nutritional benefits of polenta | Medical News Today

The Difference Between Cornmeal and Corn Flour and Polenta and Grits | Epicurious