What Is Polenta?

Polenta is one of the basic food staples of Northern Italy. Widely believed that pasta was the main food in Italian cuisine, polenta has often been over looked. There are many interesting recipes and creative ways to add this dish to any dinner table.


When times were hard, the people of Northern Italy needed to find something which would sustain them while working in the fields. They started finding creative ways to make a food staple which would keep the belly full for the day. It is this reason that polenta is known as a poverty food. The Italian cooks would grind wild grains and cook the "grits" with water, to make a porridge-type dish. Buckwheat was one of the grains which was popular because of the distinct flavor it added to the dish. When corn was brought to Italy, the people started making the polenta with the ground corn. Today's popular dish was born.


Polenta is widely used in many European countries as a regular staple at the dinner table. Northern Italy has predominantly been the main area where polenta is used. Now, this versatile dish is served in even the most up-scale restaurants all around the world.


The time it takes to make traditional polenta can be overwhelming. The dish needs to be constantly stirred while cooking. The mixture has the potential to stick to the bottom of the cooking pot and burn. It is now possible to find instant and even pre-cooked polenta in the grocery stores. This dish can be served for any meal. Breakfast would find it pan fried and served with syrup. Lunch time meals may offer it deep fried like fritters. Dinner finds polenta topped with salsa or melted cheese.


The nutritional value of corn meal polenta is not as great as some made with other grains. It is the way this food can be used which contributes to its popularity. Polenta can be used as a substitute for bread when certain dishes are prepared. Many times, it replaces the pasta course in a meal. Using a bit of creative culinary skills, polenta can be used in or with almost any dish.


There are some simple ways to prepare polenta at home without all the work and constant stirring. The traditional way to prepare this dish is to bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Once the water is at a rapid boil, the chef adds 1 pound of cornmeal. The mixture must be stirred the entire time it is cooking. This keeps lumps from forming and also keeps the mixture from burning. There are few people who have the time to devote to this method of preparation. The best, and easiest, way to prepare polenta is to add the water, salt and cornmeal into a crock pot. Turn the slow cooker on low and allow the mixture to cook overnight. The result is a soft polenta which can be used in any recipe.