Polenta is just water and coarse-ground, usually cornmeal. Or is it? There’s salt, too, right? How much? And how much water? Are other liquids okay? Do you combine, then bring to a boil? Or bring to a boil, then combine? Do you really have to stir constantly? What about soaking overnight? What about mix-ins? What to serve with? What’s the weather? What’s the meaning of life?
Eh! Don’t worry about any of that. When it comes to polenta, there’s no one right answer. Actually, there are a lot of right answers, and that’s the best part. But if you've never cooked polenta before, here is a great starter recipe:
4 cups water/broth
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup grits or polenta
3 tablespoons butter, divided
Optional: ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
Before cooking, we recommend dumping your measured amount of grits/polenta into a bowl of water. Then skim off any white bits that float to the surface.
Bring liquid and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Pour grits/polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps!
Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Mixture should still be slightly loose.
Cover and cook for 30 minutes, whisking every 5 to 6 minutes. When mixture is too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon. It’s done when texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender.
Turn off heat and gently stir 2 tablespoons butter into mixture until butter partially melts.
Optional: Mix in 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese until cheese has melted.
Cover and let stand 5 minutes to thicken. Stir and taste for salt before transferring to a serving bowl. Top with remaining 1 tablespoon butter and optional 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish.
The possibilities are endless - you can add bacon and a fried egg for breakfast, or top with a medley of seasonal vegetables, from roasted roots and fennel in the winter, to cherry tomatoes and basil in the summer.