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What the Heck Do I Do With Polenta?!

This is the first in a series of instructional posts intended to help home cooks with unfamiliar grocery items. What the Heck Do I Do With Polenta is a how-to post full of cooking instructions, recipe ideas, and serving suggestions for polenta. Simple cooking with simple ingredients and lots of inspiration!
What the Heck Do I Do With Polenta?!

Do you ever walk past something in the grocery store over and over and over again, and wonder what it is or what you should do with it? I do it all the time, and while I think I spend more time in the grocery store than most, I know it’s a common thing because people ask me crazy questions All. The. Time.

I bought bok choy the other day and the boy at the cash register asked me if you could cook the leaves? Or just the stalk?

Whenever I grab a bunch of cilantro at the farmer’s market someone will stop me and ask what kinds of foods you can put cilantro in?

And then there’s quinoa. I get questions every time I buy quinoa.

What I gather from all the food questions from perfect strangers is that people are curious about food. And lots of people like to try new things but have no idea what the heck to do with it. But also those people don’t have all day to buy said food and come up with franken-concoctions that taste good. So they just keep walking past quinoa and cilantro and bok choy, and they never really figure it out.

I decided it would be really fun to make a series of reference posts for ingredients that are easy to use and are totally delicious, but might not be familiar for you.

I started with polenta.

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pulled Pork with Polenta and Avocado Cream via Running to the Kitchen

{Slow Cooker Balsamic Pulled Pork with Polenta}

If you aren’t sure what the heck polenta is, then I’ll tell you it’s basically fancied up cornmeal. It gets referred to as “Italian grits”, but it is soooooo much more than that.

I live in the south where grits are a thing. But no one serves fried grits. And no one uses grits as a pie crust.

Polenta is probably the most versatile ingredient I have in my kitchen and it is completely easy to prepare.

You can serve it almost like mashed potatoes – all creamy with butter and cheese like the photo above.

Cooking with Polenta

You can also prepare it as shown here – crisped up in butter and then topped with marinara sauce and cheese or salsa and sour cream.

Polenta can be bought dry (Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite <<– just my personal recommendation, NOT an affiliate link — AND Bob has a video for basic preparation!) and then cooked OR it can be found already hydrated and in these little log shapes, often in the produce section, or wherever you store keeps the tofu. I used the prepared polenta for these fun little stacks here.

I used dried polenta for the crust of this Cherry Berry Cream Cheese Pie.

Cherry Berry Tart

And when you get more comfortable with the basics, you can make things like this lasagna!

Eggplant Polenta Lasagna via Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry

{Eggplant Polenta Lasagna}

I love this ingredient – as a side dish, as a building block for a meal, as pie crust!

Or you could make polenta fries…

Baked Polenta Fries with Garlic Tomato Sauce via Oh My Veggies

{Baked Polenta Fries with Garlic Tomato Sauce}

Or you could add beer.

Peer Pesto Chicken with Parmesan Pale Ale Polenta via The Beeroness

{Beer Pesto Chicken with Pale Ale Parmesan Polenta}

Is this food looking fancy to you? I super promise it’s not fancy. But it feeeeeels fancy. Which is another cool thing about polenta.

See, I checked all these recipes. I made sure they were simple enough for any home cook. So now you can be all, “Yes, tonight we will be serving Creamy Polenta with Melted Peppers and Mushrooms,” while you are actually just loafing on the couch watching another episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey because that fake fancy meal will only take you 30 hands-on minutes.

Creamy Polenta with Melted Peppers and Mushrooms via Aida Mollencamp

{Creamy Polenta with Melted Peppers, Mushrooms, and a Fried Egg}

Spaghetti and Meatballs via House of Yumm on Meal Plans Made Simple
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Claire

Wednesday 12th of April 2017

I've had some polenta in my cupboard for a while, wondering what I can use it for. Searching Pinterest I found your post which helped loads. Although now I can't decide which to try first! Thanks for sharing :)

Heather Tullos

Wednesday 12th of April 2017

Thanks for reading!

Natasha

Monday 14th of December 2015

Oh I like you. I was just looking for a new idea for polenta for dinner tonight - but your writing voice is great. You're funny and smart. So I subscribed. I do love to cook - though I try to cook much leaner meals than I think you're maybe known for ? LOL - BUT your writing voice is fabulous - and I want to hear more of it. Thanks!

Heather Tullos

Tuesday 15th of December 2015

Hi Natasha! That is so nice!!! Thank you! I am so glad you subscribed! You may be surprised to know that some of my MOST popular recipes are lightened up comfort foods. These Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps have been #1 on this site since 2014. My Healthy Pumpkin Banana Bread is also in the top ten! If you are looking for some recipes to work in that fit on the lighter side I can definitely send you some links -- just let me know! I also just put together a series of recipes set to publish in 2016 that are majorly lightened up as well as heart healthy. I won't lie -- I do love butter and brownies. But I think there's a pretty good balance. Super happy to have you!

Aurora

Saturday 28th of March 2015

Bacio catering is owned by by Daughter-in-law. Growing up in an Italian family my mother would cook polenta several ways and one of my favorite is to cook it rather soft. Pour a little red sauce in a 9x13 baking dish then add the polenta. Cut thin slices of soft Monterey Jack, cover and push it slightly into the polenta and when fully covered, pour the rest of the red sauce over all and sprinkle well with grated parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for at least 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 350º. A wonderful comfort food

ann

Monday 5th of January 2015

mom used fresh pork rinds that we baked off in the oven ~ she would let us kids brake some up in cornmeal and pork broth. after cooling over night in a bread pan, she would slice and fry in the lard. my dad put syrup on his but the kids ate them out of hand.

Julia

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

I love polenta with fresh corn and cheese added to it

Heather Tullos

Thursday 13th of November 2014

It's all about the cheese! Thanks Julia!