This creamy corn dish can take many forms, but what exactly is it made of?

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Polenta is a northern Italian dish made of coarsely ground corn. Freshly cooked, polenta is soft and creamy, like porridge or mush, and makes a terrific bed for sauces. It's a good gluten-free substitute for just about any dish that calls for pasta. When polenta cools, it firms up enough to be sliced and fried or layered like pasta sheets.

Need more reasons to love simple, versatile polenta? Check out 8 Great Reasons to Love Cooking with Polenta.

What Is the Difference Between Grits and Polenta?

There are several differences between grits and polenta. Grits are usually made of white corn, whereas polenta is always made of yellow corn. Polenta is coarser and flakier than grits, so in its cooked form it's chewier. Grits are finer and softer, and they become gelatinous when cooked.

Grits are from the American South, where they are also served for breakfast. Polenta is from Italy. Their different origin also determines the way they are served. Grits are typically eaten for breakfast whereas polenta is mainly served as a main course and side dish at other meals.

What Is the Difference Between Polenta and Semolina?

As polenta is made from corn, it's gluten-free. Semolina, on the other hand, is coarsely ground, high-gluten durum wheat used to make pasta, cakes, and breads.

Creamy Polenta with Beef and Red Sauce
Photo by Getty Images

What Is a Polenta Log?

Precooked polenta is sold in the shape of a polenta roll, also called tubed polenta. All you need to do it slice and fry it.

What Is Polenta Cake?

Polenta is not just used in savory dishes, it is also great for cakes. Gluten-free polenta cake often contains almond flour or finely ground almonds.

How to Make Polenta

"Polenta is a perfect base for any kind of saucy meat or mushroom ragout," says Chef John. "The classic ratio is 1 part polenta to 4 parts water, but I like to measure the polenta just a little scant of a full cup. I often use chicken broth instead of water." See how it's done:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish

Instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Top polenta with remaining 1 tablespoon butter and about 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish.

Some Favorite Polenta Recipes

"Easy and delicious creamy polenta," says Keith Haney. "Makes a great side, appetizer, or base for a hearty stew."

Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Photo by Buckwheat Queen

"Refrigerated polenta with a stove top sauce," says SPICYGIRL. "We prefer the flavored polenta and spicy Italian sausage and also use spicy Italian seasoning to give it some more kick, but you can also use the regular sausage and Italian seasoning. This will serve 4 to 6 people."

Polenta with Spicy Sausage-Veggie Sauce
Photo by naples34102

"A delicious medley of hot Italian sausage and peppers is spooned over creamy Parmesan polenta in this satisfying weeknight recipe," says Julie Hubert.

Sausage and Peppers over Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Photo by Buckwheat Queen

"Creamy polenta without any animal products," says Buckwheat Queen. "Serve this for a savory accompaniment to your meals. Polenta goes very well with tomato-based dishes, beans, and sauteed mushrooms."

Vegan Polenta
Photo by Buckwheat Queen

"This is a great twist on the traditional french fry," says ALEC1967. "If you don't want to go to the trouble of making your own by scratch, you can always buy prepared polenta at just about any grocery store, slice them into fries, and fry."

Polenta Fries
Photo by naples34102

"This recipe is a perfect way to highlight and use fresh summer tomatoes," says rjohl. "It makes a great side dish for grilled chicken or pork chops."

Baked Polenta with Fresh Tomatoes and Parmesan by Molly
Photo by Molly

"So easy and so good!" says Angie S. "This recipe is great as-is, or can be a start for so many variations."

Angie's Polenta Lasagna
Photo by CookinBug

"A delicious, quick, vegan comfort food meal," says shelbyRS93. "I like to add a little hot sauce (such as Tabasco) or cayenne pepper, but that's just me!"

Vegan 'Meat' Sauce on Polenta
Photo by Buckwheat Queen
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen


Related: Check out our collection of Polenta Recipes.