Pumpkin Polenta

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Over the years I’ve been asked quite frequently about the difference between polenta and grits. But they are the same thing – essentially, cornmeal. Polenta is the Italian name for the dish, and grits are well known in the states as a Southern staple. They are both a savory porridge of sorts, made with ground corn. The only thing that is different is the grind of the cornmeal. There are finer grinds and coarser ones.

The reason I love polenta (and grits) is that I can do wonderful things with it depending on my mood and the season. For example, with fall approaching, I’ve begun stocking up on one of my favorite canned ingredient – pumpkin puree. I add pumpkin to soups, stews, pastas, meat loaves, risottos, and today, polenta. Pumpkin not only complements the cornmeal flavor, but it creates a beautiful orange color as well. It just screams autumn!

When you go to cook your cornmeal as polenta, you need to read the package directions. Because polenta comes in various grinds, the cooking times vary. Just as with purchased pasta, read the directions. Also keep in mind that cornmeal nearly triples in volume when it cooks, so unless you’re cooking for an army, don’t be tempted to use more than 1 cup of polenta, which is perfect for 4-5 servings. Here’s what I did.

This post is also at The Not So Creative Cook today. Jhuls is the author of this blog, and she actually is very creative! She was kind enough to ask me for a guest post, and I chose this dish because of fall approaching, although not fast enough for me. She used the Pumpkin Polenta for Fiesta Friday, which is a weekly post created by Angie over at The Novice Gardener.

Pumpkin Polenta

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium-heat until the butter just browns. Add the onion and stir, lower the heat to medium low. Sauté the onion for about 3-4 minutes.

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Add the garlic and cook for just about 30 seconds, then stir in the broth, pumpkin, and salt.

Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Using a whisk, slowly pour in the cornmeal. Lower the heat and simmer the polenta, whisking occasionally, until all of the liquid is incorporated.
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If it gets too thick, add a little more liquid. This process should only take about 8-10 minutes unless you’re using a coarser cornmeal.

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Serve with grated cheese, if desired, such as Parmesan, or, in my case, Monterey Jack!

If you want your polenta a little more decadent, substitute some heavy cream or even goat’s milk for some of the broth.

Just think of the ways you can make polenta! Add pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, both fresh and dried, ancho chile paste, achiote oil – you name it!

note: Just like oatmeal, polenta will keep thickening with time. If you need to refrigerate any leftover polenta, make it really soupy before you store it. Only then will you have a chance of not discovering a cornmeal frisbee in your frig the next day!