By Vanessa Greaves
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Stews love to nestle into it. Pasta sauce treats it like family. And it makes excellent appetizers. That it's gluten-free just comes with the territory.

Creamy and versatile, this Italian cornmeal porridge is a gluten-free cook's dream. It can stand in just about anywhere you'd normally use pasta because it makes a soft bed for sauces when freshly cooked. And when it cools, it firms up enough to be sliced. Here are just 8 great reasons to start cooking with polenta.

1. Healthy carb to serve with stews

Short Ribs Braised with Mushrooms and Tomatoes | Photo by mauigirl

2. Helps make a fast family supper

Make a quick and easy satisfying meal with this recipe for Sausage & Peppers over Creamy Parmesan Polenta

3. Use Pre-cooked polenta for even speedier dinners

For the time-crunched cook, polenta is sold precooked. You can crisp up slices for Polenta with Spicy Sausage-Veggie Sauce.

Photo by naples34102

4. Makes tasty fries

Cool it on a baking sheet and slice it to make appetizer finger food like Polenta Fries.

Photo by naples34102

5. Gluten-free alternative to pasta

Treat it like pasta for Spicy Tomato Sauce or Arrabiata Sausage Ragout. It's also a great substitution for wide noodles in Angie's Polenta Lasagna.

Photo by CookinBug

6. Makes a hearty casserole

Layer it into a casserole for Baked Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes and Parmesan. Add vegetables and meats to the mix to create a hearty Torta De Polenta.

7. Great to bake with

This Lemon Polenta Cake is gluten-free, zesty, and delicious.

Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Good to Know

When you're buying polenta, you might find it labeled as corn grits. They're interchangeable, although corn grits are usually more coarsely ground than the cornmeal used in polenta. If you have a true gluten allergy, read the label carefully to make sure the facility does not handle wheat, rye, and barley.

Chef John has an excellent how-to video that shows the secrets to making perfectly smooth polenta.

How to Make Polenta

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish

Directions

  • Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Polenta mixture should still be slightly loose. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, whisking every 5 to 6 minutes. When polenta is too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon. Polenta is done when texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender.
  • Turn off heat and gently stir 2 tablespoons butter into polenta until butter partially melts; mix 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into polenta until cheese has melted. Cover and let stand 5 minutes to thicken; stir and taste for salt before transferring to a serving bowl. Top polenta with remaining 1 tablespoon butter and about 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish