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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}


Friday 14th of July 2023

I love this post. I too am in the south ( Alabama) and recently had a conversation about polenta vs grits. This post is very informative and I love the recipes. I will be passing this along.

Heather Tullos

Sunday 23rd of July 2023

Thank you, Doris!

Shoshonna Clemons

Friday 28th of January 2022

Definitely not alone. I grab food to experiment with all the time! Today is polenta. I'm really glad I found this post! Thank you!


Tuesday 25th of January 2022

I love grits never tried polenta but I am now. I recently found out that I have an allergy to wheat. Having to make changes in what I eat.


Saturday 23rd of November 2019

I just had some polenta left in the fridge. Today I was craving some sweet creamy corn meal mom used to make. I have been eating plant based for a while now. So here is my hack and it was perfect for the soul! I threw it in the blender with soy milk and a bit of brown sugar. When blended to perfection I simmered it in a small pot added vanilla and cinnamon. It was just awesome! Enjoy!

Heather Tullos

Sunday 24th of November 2019

Love it! Thanks, Alicia!


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!