Put Polenta On the Menu

Polenta's a perennial favorite in restaurants, but for some reason it's less popular in home kitchens. Yet it's as easy to make and versatile as any side dish, and it's a nice alternative to rice, pasta and potatoes. Use these tips for putting it on the menu tonight!

Classic polenta is made by cooking coarse or medium-ground cornmeal (also called polenta) in water for 20 to 30 minutes. When it's perfectly cooked, polenta is tender yet slightly grainy, and not too thick or runny. It can be eaten as is, although typically it's served with butter and grated Parmesan mixed in. Or you can top polenta with grilled or braised meat, sausage, stew or sauteed vegetables.

If you don't want to spend 20 minutes making polenta, try one of these shortcuts:

  • Use quick-cooking or fine-ground yellow cornmeal; it cooks in 10 minutes.
  • Purchase tubes of cooked polenta. Just slice the polenta and heat it.
  • Make instant polenta; it cooks in about 5 minutes.

Cornmeal is stocked in the baking aisle of supermarkets. Instant and quick-cooking versions can be found in the ethnic foods section. Tubes of polenta are in the ethnic foods or refrigerated sections.

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