Along with pasta, rice and quinoa, polenta is a great pantry staple to round out meals in a pinch. But the golden grains don’t have to be relegated to side dish territory alone; they also pack enough substance and flavor to be the main event. And as a nice bonus, polenta is derived from corn — therefore naturally gluten-free — and quite budget-friendly. Read on for all of the details!
Just about any grocery store carries polenta, either in dry form or pre-made tubes. Find it stocked with cornmeal and other grains, or down the breakfast aisle in the hot cereal section. A lot of folks wonder if non-instant grits and polenta are interchangeable, and the short answer is yes. However, they’re often made with different varieties of corn, so you can expect a slight variance in taste, texture and cooking times.
As mentioned earlier, polenta makes for a wonderful starchy element to complete (or stretch out) a meal. You can doll up a batch of the softer stuff with butter and cheese as a delicious alternative to mashed potatoes. It can also be chilled, sliced and crisped up in a lightly greased pan or on the grill, then topped with any number of flavorful goodies both savory and sweet.
Beyond its flexibility and budget-friendliness, there are other good things going for it too. Given that it’s made from corn alone, every serving is relatively low in calories (before butter and cheese are added to the equation, at least) and packed with iron, fiber and protein. Sounds pretty good, right?
The most common way to cook up polenta is to simmer the grains in various amounts of liquid — water, stock, milk, etc. — to yield either a soft porridge or stiff (and sliceable) product. And given the neutral flavor, you can really play around with it and add a huge variety of accompaniments and seasonings. In a pinch, it can even be used as a swap for breadcrumbs in some recipes; just know that the result will probably be extra crunchy! Check out these tasty ideas below to get you started.
1. Crockpot Braised Beef Ragu With Polenta: Here, buttery, creamy polenta creates a fabulous, naturally gluten-free bed for well-seasoned shreds of beef and tomatoes. Every bite is pure comfort. (via Pinch of Yum)
3. Polenta French Toast Sticks: These genius bad boys are flippin’ delicious… all without using bread. They’ll make you forget about those frozen French toast sticks you grew up with. (via The Gourmet RD)
4. Tomato and Mushroom Polenta Pie: You’ll love how the polenta tricks you into thinking there’s a TON of cheese layered into this pie. In reality, this healthy lasagna contains merely one prudent cup. (via Natural Comfort Kitchen)
5. Olive Oil Polenta Cake: Olive oil not only brings out the golden tones of polenta: It also adds a savory layer of flavor and tons of moisture to every crumbly slice. A dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream and tart berries are an ideal match. (via Heinstirred)
Have you ever cooked with polenta before? What are some of your favorite ways to use it? Share your tips, tricks and suggestions with us in the comments!