The Other Polenta

The most well known version of Italian polenta, in my experience, is the soft and creamy porridge style – what we call grits in the United States. Savory and hearty for breakfast or as a dish served similar to risotto – topped with braised mushrooms, grilled shrimp, or simply with cheese. If you want a grits recipe, check out grits with eggs and red sauce.

But there’s another way to prepare and serve polenta, which I’m calling “the other polenta.” It also deserves a little attention and respect.

This kind of polenta is more like a soft yet dense cornbread. As with American cornbread, this bread-like polenta is wonderful served with stews, pasta, soups, or even salads. It also makes a fabulous appetizer, topped with cheese and served with white wine.

Lorenza de-Medici refers to this polenta appetizer as crostini di polenta. In her cookbook The Villa Table, she states, “I always make more polenta than a recipe requires in order to have some for making crostini for the next day!” It’s a great idea!

I’ve seen polenta used in so many ways in Italian cookbooks, like molded into a timbale served with a meaty ragu, or as dumplings, or layered into a casserole or pie. But however polenta is used, it comes down to preparing the softer creamy version, or the drier, sliceable variety that I’m making today.

So here’s how make the other Polenta

Have 2 cups of cornmeal on hand in a bowl.

IMG_7276

Heat 6 cups of slightly salted water in a heavy pot on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil, slowly pour in the cornmeal.

IMG_7283

Whisk well, then turn the heat down to the lowest position, cover the pot and let the polenta cook for 30 minutes.

IMG_7286

Remove the lid and give the polenta a stir. Depending on the grind of the cornmeal, it might be cooked already. Give it a taste and test if it’s gritty, which would indicate more cooking time required.

My polenta looks a bit grainy because it’s a coarser grind, but it’s fully cooked.

IMG_7289

Add a little more water if you feel it could stick to the pot, but keep the additional water to a minimum. Then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more, still over the lowest possible heat.

Butter a 9″ x 13″ cake pan. You can also use a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.

While still hot, pour the polenta into the pan. (If you want to make this kind of polenta the traditional way, you can also pour the polenta onto a large, clean work surface or board.)

IMG_7292

Let the polenta cool completely, even overnight, covered tightly with foil.

When you are ready to finish the polenta, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the cooled polenta with grated cheese; I used Gruyère.

IMG_7295

Then bake the polenta until the cheese barely browns a bit, about 30 minutes. The baking of the polenta dries it out, or solidifies it more, if you will, plus it melts the cheese. This step could probably be done under the broiler if you feel your polenta is stiff enough to already slice.

Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

IMG_7296

To slice, flip the pan of polenta over onto a large platter, then flip it onto a cutting board, cheesy side up. Alternatively, slice inside your pan if it’s not non-stick like mine.

Cut squares or strips of polenta and serve warm. With wine, of course.

IMG_7341

Today I served the baked polenta with a fresh asparagus soup!

IMG_7307

Alternatively, you can cut squares or shapes of the polenta, place them on an oiled baking sheet and then bake them. I’ve seen so many different variations that I don’t think it matters as long as you eventually get to the lovely cheesy polenta. In fact, I’ve seen polenta squares fried on both sides before serving, and also grilled. But I like the easier way of keeping everything in the cake pan, then slicing.

polen

If you love polenta or grits, you will surely loved baked polenta!

IMG_7337

note: You can use chicken broth in this recipe if you feel the polenta might be too bland for your taste.

By Published On: March 22nd, 201628 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

28 Comments

  1. A Cookbook Collection March 22, 2016 at 8:06 AM - Reply

    Beautiful Mimi! I’m not a big fan of soft polenta but I love it set like this and then heated on a griddle pan and used in place of bread. It is so versatile.

  2. Elaine @ foodbod March 22, 2016 at 9:23 AM - Reply

    Thank you for this, time for me to play!

    • chef mimi March 22, 2016 at 5:48 PM - Reply

      Hahaha! Playing in the kitchen is good!

  3. aranislandgirl March 22, 2016 at 11:41 AM - Reply

    Sounds and looks delicious. I like the idea of using broth also.

    • chef mimi March 22, 2016 at 11:48 AM - Reply

      It’s pretty bland, really. I couldn’t eat it without the cheese!

      • aranislandgirl March 22, 2016 at 11:49 AM

        Cheese makes most things better :D

  4. anotherfoodieblogger March 22, 2016 at 2:09 PM - Reply

    The addition of Gruyere is a great idea for this! It looks very tasty and perfect for soup.

  5. Nancy March 22, 2016 at 3:31 PM - Reply

    I love polenta and corn bread so this “other polenta” must be right up my alley! It sounds so good, especially with that sprinkle of cheese! Looks delicious!

  6. Loretta March 22, 2016 at 4:32 PM - Reply

    I’ve never cooked polenta before and wanted to know how… But now I know not to try the porridge version, but go for the gold :). Love this recipe, I’ll be trying it soon :)

  7. Lisa @ cheergerm March 23, 2016 at 6:53 AM - Reply

    We love polenta like this too, great idea to pair it with soup!

  8. Debbie Spivey March 23, 2016 at 7:16 AM - Reply

    I’m not crazy about polenta, but I just may be if I had a piece of this, Mimi. Wow!

  9. bitsandbreadcrumbs March 24, 2016 at 10:11 AM - Reply

    I just made soft polenta to go with a vegetable ragout. I hadn’t made polenta before and thought that leftovers would harden enough in the fridge to be sliced and fried. Boy was I surprised! ;) Glad to see your recipe for the “other” polenta. It looks great and I will surely give this a try. I have some smoked Spanish cheese in the fridge that would be good on top and will use some chicken broth. Can’t wait!

    • chef mimi March 24, 2016 at 10:15 AM - Reply

      Oh yeah, the baking really does the toughening up! I’m sure your polenta got thicker, like oatmeal does, just not bready enough. The smoked cheese sounds fab!!!

  10. Jeff the Chef March 25, 2016 at 3:41 AM - Reply

    I’ve never had this kind of polenta! Where have I been? Hiding under a large mixing bowl? It looks delicious.

    • chef mimi March 25, 2016 at 7:06 AM - Reply

      It’s pretty good – especially as an appetizer!

  11. camparigirl March 25, 2016 at 5:01 PM - Reply

    That looks so delicious! I love polenta, in all its guises, and I learnt to fry the leftovers from my mom who, bless her heart, eats it cold the morning after, with a glass of milk for breakfast!

    • chef mimi March 25, 2016 at 5:49 PM - Reply

      Oh my. Don’t think I could eat it cold!!!

  12. Lesley at Lola Rugula March 28, 2016 at 11:17 AM - Reply

    It’s so funny but this style of polenta is actually how I came to know it, so when I came across the “soft” polenta many moons ago, I was completely confused. I only knew it as the cornbread-style, which is how I still really love it!

    • chef mimi March 28, 2016 at 1:08 PM - Reply

      Interesting! And I only learned about this kind in cookbooks!

  13. Sockmonkey's Kitchen April 1, 2016 at 12:12 PM - Reply

    I love this idea! Totally bookmarking/printing this one. Thanks so much Chef Mimi! <3

  14. CakePants April 4, 2016 at 8:46 PM - Reply

    Mmm…I’ve never met a polenta I didn’t like, and I’m sure this is no exception! That layer of gruyere on top looks like a great finishing touch!

Leave a Reply. I love 'em!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.