Nervous about making polenta? Did you end up with lumps last time? Not sure what sort of cornmeal to use? Worry not! Creamy Italian polenta will be yours so long as you follow a few simple tips.
While I enjoy making polenta in my slow cooker, it’s quicker and just as easy to make on the stove top. In fact, it is so easy that sometimes I forget how simple it is to make. Then I make polenta again and wonder why I don’t make it all the time!
I’m going to start here with the tips, then I have a few step-by-step photos to give you some visuals of the process, and of course the recipe at the end!
My creamy polenta tips:
- Cold water! Step away from the boiling water and the need to carefully, oh so carefully, pour in the polenta while madly whisking and hoping you get no lumps. Polenta does not care what temperature the water is when you start the recipe. Cold water + polenta + some whisking = no lumps every time.
- Low and slow. Once you’ve brought the polenta to a simmer, get that heat down and let it gently warm through and get tender. There is no rushing polenta. Too high a heat means you have to stand there and stir constantly to keep it from burning on the bottom. Why do that? Keep the heat low and stir every 5-10 minutes instead.
- 4/1 ratio. I find a recipe using 4 parts liquid and 1 part polenta meal makes for a nice and thick polenta. Lower and you’re likely to not be able to properly hydrate the corn. This is not a hard and fast rule though! So long as you don’t want to fry/grill the polenta, a 5/1 ratio can make for a really soft and creamy polenta.
Polenta Grind Cornmeal
Here’s a closeup of the cornmeal I like for polenta (Bob’s Red Mill Polenta Corn Grits). This is a coarse ground yellow cornmeal. However, any medium to coarse ground cornmeal will work. Stay away from fine grind cornmeal and instant polenta mix and you’ll be good.
Pour the Cornmeal into Cold Water
No lumps! Just pour the cornmeal into your water (or milk or stock) and give it a whisking as you heat it up.
Keep the Heat Low and Slow
Your polenta will be steaming and maybe bubble occasionally (maybe) as you gently cook the polenta. This means you only need to stir it every 5 to 10 minutes and there is no need to worry about burning or having the polenta bubble up and spit at you.
Your Creamy Italian Polenta is Done!
Once the liquid has been absorbed, the grains are tender, and the polenta is pulling away from the sides of the pan, your polenta is done. This will take 45-50 minutes. If your polenta looks done but doesn’t taste done (still a little too firm), add another glug or two of liquid and continue for another 5 minutes.
The Finishing Touches
While you could enjoy your polenta as is, a sprinkle of cheese, a little butter, or maybe a bit of cream or milk can all make your polenta even better. I like some butter and parmesan as a standard finishing touch. However, other cheeses, like fontina or havarti or brie can be used to complement the flavors in the rest of the meal. Also, for a very soft and creamy polenta, another cup of milk or stock is nice to add at the end.
How to Make Creamy Italian Polenta
- 4 cups water, stock, or milk
- 1 cup medium to coarse ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese, optional
- In a large saucepan, whisk together the cold liquid (water, milk, stock, or combo), the cornmeal, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat while whisking.
- Reduce the heat to low. The polenta should have some steam coming up but not be bubbling. Stir the polenta every 5-10 minutes. Cook for 45-50 minutes. The polenta will be tender and thick when it's done. (If it gets too thick before it's tender, add a little more water or stock to the pan.)
- Once your polenta is cooked through, stir in the butter and parmesan (if using).
- I like to use a mixture of half whole milk and half either water or chicken stock. However, you can use all water or all stock. Or, if you want a particularly creamy polenta, all milk.
- I use Bob's Red Mill corn grits/polenta mix. Though I list using any medium/coarse cornmeal, you will get better results using a grind which is labeled as being for polenta. DO NOT USE INSTANT POLENTA.
- This recipe will make a thick polenta good for topping with ragu or braised beef or for chilling and then frying up the next day. For a very soft thinner polenta, add one more cup of liquid towards the end of cooking. The soft polenta will still be quite soft after chilling and I don't find it good for frying.
- If your heat is too high, the polenta may burn on the bottom and it can also start 'spitting' from bubbling up (painful and messy!). Keep the heat nice and low and don't be in rush and your polenta will be creamy and soft.