Updated: Apr 6
There is a fundamental food of Northern Italy that doesn’t usually get much recognition, let alone it's due respect. Defying its humble and obscure past, healthful polenta has now attained a culinary status in gourmet food restaurants attracting a higher-end class of clientele.
The key to the popularity of polenta is its sheer versatility. A mild-flavoured vessel for anything - stews, hearty sauces, pulled meat or chilis - it's spread to every corner of the world, making use of what is locally grown or raised. Just-cooked polenta can be served at dinnertime as a base for any thick sauce or stew absorbing savoury juices while contributing its own sweet taste of corn. It's also wonderful hot porridge for breakfast topped with cinnamon, honey, berries and milk or with fried eggs and grated cheese.
Polenta can be spooned straight out of the pot while still soft and deemed a replacement for potatoes, rice, pasta or bread during a meal. The softness of polenta depends on the amount of liquid used. Polenta that is to be poured in a pan, cooled and cut into shapes to be cooked further is made with less liquid, so it comes out firmer and easier to cut. This polenta can be fried, baked or grilled to develop a nice crust for bruschetta with mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant toppings or for layering in lasagne instead of noodles. When cut into cubes or batons, olive oiled and tossed with Qspice Bouillon, roasted polenta turns out the tastiest crispy croutons and fries.
Prepared polenta may not look appetizing in the grocery store but offers a convenient introduction to this cornmeal concoction. Tote a tube home to experiment with fried or grilled sliced polenta rounds or try your hand at a homemade batch. It’s surprisingly easy to master.
6 Tasty Ways to Use Tubed Polenta:
Grilling - Add a smoky note to your dish by grilling polenta rounds alongside other foods or skewering large cubes onto kebabs.
Canapes - Let the sturdy texture of baked polenta slices provide the base for easy appetizers.
Layering - Replace noodles in a lasagne or bulk up any casserole or skillet dinner with thin velvety polenta layers.
Croutons - Switch up your soup or salad topping with crispy polenta bites. Cut polenta into 1 cm cubes, toss in a bit of olive oil then in a mixture of equal parts Qspice Bouillon and breadcrumbs. Bake single-layered on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a preheated 425°F oven for about 35 minutes. Garnish your dish with hot croutons.
Smothering - Use baked or pan-fried polenta rounds as a vehicles to deliver flavourful sauces and toppings.
Fries - Create amazing fries with baked polenta cut into long wedges or strips. Toss polenta strips with a bit of olive oil then in a mixture of equal parts Qspice Bouillon and breadcrumbs. Bake single-layered on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a preheated 425°F oven for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway. Serve immediately with your favourite dipping sauce.
TYPES OF CORNMEAL:
Corn flour is the smallest, silkiest grind of cornmeal. It's good for cookies or light tempura batter.
Fine and medium cornmeals are your all-purpose cornmeals. Use these for cornbread, cake and pancakes.
Coarse cornmeal will make your cakes gritty and pebbly. Save that for where you want that toothsome texture like fruit crisps topping, polenta or Southern-style cornbread. Unless the recipe explicitly calls for coarse cornmeal, you should generally stay away.
Polenta is often the label given to coarsely ground yellow cornmeal and has a prominent corn flavour.
Grits are coarsely ground white cornmeal with a more delicate flavour.
Stone-ground cornmeal means that some of the hull and germ of the kernel are retained. This makes for a more nutritious and corn-forward product that tends to be coarser. If stone-ground isn’t advertised on the label, the cornmeal was most likely ground with steel rollers. These get rid of most of the hull and germ, making the cornmeal shelf-stable for a longer period of time, sort of like the difference between
all-purpose and whole wheat flours.
If the package doesn't specify the texture, it’s safe to assume you’re getting either a fine or medium grind. And that's the package to use if a recipe just calls for cornmeal, not any particular kind. Just know that a medium grind will give you some texture, while a fine grind might make a denser crumb.
Our Creamed Polenta recipe makes this gluten-free comfort food winner at home in minutes! Whenever I make soft polenta to gob on plates for topping with a robust sauce or ragout, I always make extra to spoon into a loaf pan to cool, slice and microwave as an easy side for another day. Enjoy this tasty staple food while discovering the charm polenta lends to so many dishes!