This post may include affiliate links; for details, see our disclosure policy.

Wondering how to make polenta? Cornmeal, water and butter make a polenta that’s creamy, thick, and savory. Top this creamy polenta recipe with roasted veggies, shrimp or ragout.

Polenta Recipe

Polenta may sound glamorous, but it’s nothing other than an Italian-style cornmeal porridge! This side dish is often found on restaurant menus, much like its cousin, American-style grits. Fortunately, polenta is a easy to make at home: you’ll just need 3 ingredients to form this golden, creamy mixture that’s ideal for topping with roasted vegetables, chicken, shrimp, caponata, or ragout. Add some Parmesan cheese and you’ll put it over the top. Here’s our no-fail recipe for whisking it up in your kitchen.

Ingredients for this polenta recipe

After much trial and error, we’ve created a simple, creamy polenta recipe that requires few ingredients and very little effort on your part. Learning how to cook polenta is easier than we initially thought. All you need is four ingredients:

  • Cornmeal (medium-grind)
  • Water
  • Salted butter
  • Salt

For added flavor, you can stir in some cheese when you mix in the butter. We like adding Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, aged cheeses that add a depth in flavor. The cheese adds an even more intense savory note that makes it taste like a much fancier dish than it actually is. Keep in mind that cheese has salt in it, so add it first before tasting and salting to taste.

Do not substitute grits for the cornmeal here. Grits are coarser than cornmeal, which won’t give you the texture you want. Some packages are also labeled with the word “polenta”, which you can use as well: just don’t use packages marked “instant polenta.” But plain old cornmeal does the trick!

Polenta Recipe

Polenta vs grits

What is the difference between grits and polenta? While they’re both a corn porridge, one is Italian and one part of the cuisine of the American South. They’re both made of dried corn. The main difference is in the texture: polenta is coarser than grits. Another difference is in the preparation: grit are often made of hominy, dried corn that’s been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization. (Sounds fancy, but it’s the same process used for the masa flour that makes corn tortillas!)

Big takeaway: there’s not a huge difference between the two. You can use medium grind cornmeal for polenta, or use it to make grits! Here’s our Famous Shrimp and Grits recipe.

Cornmeal

How to make polenta

It’s simple to make polenta, and it’s a very easy side dish for everything from chicken to ratatouille. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Boil the water and whisk in the cornmeal: Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan. When the water boils, whisk in 1 cup cornmeal in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue whisking until the polenta begins to thicken (around 1 to 2 minutes). Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
  2. Simmer 20 minutes: Reduce the heat so that the polenta bubbles slowly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until the cornmeal loses its raw flavor.
  3. Season with butter and salt: When the polenta is complete, turn off the heat and add the butter, Parmesan cheese (if using), and another about ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. You can cover it to keep it warm before serving. If the polenta becomes too thick, you can stir in a bit of water to loosen it up.

Make it vegan

It’s easy to make this into a vegan polenta recipe! Simply use vegan butter in place of the salted butter, and add additional salt to taste. Omit the Parmesan cheese, or there are several brands of dairy-free Parmesan cheese on the market that would work well as a substitute.

Storing leftovers

This polenta recipe makes about 4 cups, so you may have leftovers. When it’s cooked it gets hard in the fridge, but you can make it soft again by mixing it with a little milk or water on the stovetop and whisking until it reaches your desired consistency.

Or, you can slice the hardened polenta and cook it in a little olive oil or butter until golden on both sides. The outsides will be slightly crunchy, while the insides will be gooey—comfort food at its finest! If you want to try this method, before refrigerating pour the polenta into a rimmed baking sheet so that it hardens in an even layer. You can also grill polenta that’s been cooled on a sheet pan.

Polenta Recipe

What to serve with polenta

Because polenta has a naturally sweet undertone, so it pairs well with rich, savory dishes and is a good alternative to pasta. Try serving it with dishes like sautéed greens or mushrooms, vegetable ragout, fried eggs, and so forth. You could even top it with vegetarian meatballs!

If you eat fish, shrimp and salmon are natural pairs as well. You could serve grilled shrimp would look lovely served right on top, and garnished with some fresh herbs. You can also adjust which spices you add to this recipe depending on what you’re serving it with. A dash of garlic and onion powder in the polenta would pair well with sautéed greens, for instance.

Here are a few example polenta dishes. Use these as how to get your wheels turning for how you’d serve it!

Is polenta healthy?

Polenta is a whole grain, fairly low calorie, gluten-free and a good source of fiber. However, whether it’s healthy depends on how you serve it! Some dishes call loads of cream and butter to make a creamy texture. In this recipe we’ve used a very small amount of butter. If you’d like, you can substitute olive oil to make it vegan and plant based.

More cornmeal recipes

Want more with cornmeal? Here are a few more cornmeal recipes you might enjoy:

This recipe is…

This creamy polenta recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free. Substitute olive oil for vegan.

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Polenta Recipe

Polenta Recipe


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Wondering how to make polenta? Cornmeal, water and butter make a polenta that’s creamy, thick, and savory. Top this creamy polenta recipe with roasted veggies, shrimp or ragout.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring the water to boil in a medium saucepan. When the water boils, whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue whisking until the polenta begins to thicken (around 1 to 2 minutes). Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
  2. Reduce the heat so that the polenta bubbles slowly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until the cornmeal loses its raw flavor (taste every so often to check).
  3. When the polenta is complete, turn off the heat and add the butter, Parmesan cheese (if using), and another about ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. You can cover it to keep it warm before serving. If the polenta becomes too thick, you can stir in a bit of water to loosen it up.

Notes

Inspired by Jack Bishop in The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook

  • Category: Side
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Polenta, Polenta recipe

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

Leave a Comment

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

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

12 Comments

  1. Nice basic recipe. I like using diluted chicken or some other stock instead of water. Add a bit of butter at the very end, and cheese if wanted. Type of stock and any additions (fresh left over corn, from the cob, ground 😋) depends on what I’m serving on/with it.

  2. This was a wonderful recipe. The second time I made this I sauteed onions and a couple of bella mushrooms with a hint of harissa and some roasted garlic, I then added 2 tablespoons of truffle. Took it all out of the pot, make the polenta as written then added everything back in with grated parmesan in the last minute of cooking. Served it with lamb..Omg, so good.

  3. I am anxious to try this recipe since I didn’t know what it was until I was served it as the vegetarian option at a formal dinner last night. My question: does this recipe work in a rice cooker?

  4. Easiest and maybe tastiest polenta iteration I’ve had. I’ve made far more complex polentas but honestly loved this way more. Added two T earth balance to keep it vegan and about one T nutritional yeast. My hubby doesn’t love polenta and had two big servings of this. Put fresh ratatouille on top. Yum!!

  5. I just made polenta recently for my very first time and I followed this recipe to a T and it turned out PERFECTLY. I made it a second time and same results – perfection.

    Then I thought I’d try someone else’s recipe, just to branch out. Bad idea. I don’t know why, but they called for the same amount of polenta but HALF as much water. As you can imagine, 10 minutes in I had polenta burned to the inside of my pan. That was not fun to scrape out.

    As my great grandmother always said, “don’t fix what’s not broken.” I’ll be sticking with your recipe from now on! Thank you SO much for sharing it!

  6. My husband and I are also Italian and I have been on the hunt for a great polenta recipe. I made your recipe with our steak Marsala for dinner tonight and it’s FANTASTIC!! Buttery, smooth and the cheese adds makes it creamy with a subtle kick to the flavor. Also a hit with my two boys! 5/5 stars! Thank you!

    1. Wow this is high praise coming from Italians! Thank you SO so much! We are so glad to hear that your boys loved it too. Thank you for making our recipe!

  7. Fantastic recipe for introduction to the world of Palenta !
    Never made it before. Used the recipe. Pleased. Worked well. Tastes great.
    Will recommend. ?