Creamy Polenta Is a Versatile Side Dish, Easily Reheated

Polenta with corn flour and corn cobs
Nico Tondini / Getty Images
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins,
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6
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Polenta is a simple Italian dish of cooked cornmeal, somewhat similar to Southern-style grits. It can be prepared in various consistencies and is a tasty accompaniment to hearty dishes like beef stew. Polenta is also delicious on its own as a breakfast cereal. 

Polenta is easy to prepare and cooks quickly. Cook the polenta a bit longer if you prefer a thicker consistency. Grated cheese adds extra flavor to this traditional dish.

Save any leftovers in the refrigerator. Polenta is easy to reheat, and you can do that in several ways.

  • Chilled polenta can be cut into squares, or any shape, and sauteed in butter for an excellent breakfast or side dish.
  • Or you can cut chilled polenta into small circles and crisp them in a skillet -- they will be very much like little arepas -- and then top them with something tasty, like aji de gallina or avocado salsa, for example, to make a nice little appetizer. If you spread the polenta into a thin layer in a pyrex dish while it is warm, it makes it easier to cut it into circles.
  • To reheat polenta back to a creamy consistency, heat it gently on the stove or microwave, adding a bit of water or milk as needed until it reaches the desired consistency.

What You'll Need

  • 2 cups yellow coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

How to Make It

  1. Place the cornmeal in a heavy stockpot.
  2. Gradually add 2 cups of water and the salt to the cornmeal, whisking the mixture well as you add the water until the cornmeal and water are well-mixed and free of any lumps.
  3. Bring the remaining 2 cups of water to a boil, then add the boiling water gradually to the cornmeal mixture, whisking at the same time.
  4. Cook the cornmeal over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture comes to a gentle simmer.
  1. Add the milk and butter and continue to cook over low heat, stirring, for 10 minutes longer.
  2. Taste the polenta for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
  3. Add more liquid (milk, cream or water) if the mixture seems too thick. If the mixture is too thin, cook the polenta a bit longer, watching carefully and stirring constantly to prevent sticking, until the desired consistency is reached. The mixture should be thick but will thicken even more as it cools.
  4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar and Parmesan until they are melted and incorporated.
  5. Serve polenta warm with extra grated Parmesan cheese on the side.with extra grated Parmesan cheese on the side.