Quick & Easy Polenta – Once Upon a Chef

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Need an easy yet delicious side dish? Make a comforting bowl of creamy polenta in just ten minutes!

Quick & Easy Polenta

Polenta is a traditional Italian dish made from cornmeal. It can be served hot as a comforting porridge-like dish or chilled and sliced for grilling or frying. It has a subtle corn flavor that takes well to generous amounts of butter and cheese, and it makes an excellent base for saucy dishes, such as chicken cacciatore or turkey meatballs.

There are two types of polenta: traditional and instant. Traditional polenta is made with coarsely ground cornmeal and takes up to an hour to cook with frequent stirring. Instant polenta, on the other hand, is made with pre-cooked, dried and finely ground cornmeal, and takes just minutes to prepare. Although the traditional version has a more rustic texture and pronounced corn flavor, I usually opt for instant polenta for convenience. It still delivers great taste, and you can’t beat a side dish that can be whipped up in 10 minutes!

Table of Contents

“Love this QUICK, easy and flavorful polenta recipe! The flavor profile is spot on.”

Celeste

What You’ll Need To Make Quick & Easy Polenta

ingredients to make creamy polenta.

Find the printable recipe with specific measurements below.

  • Whole milk: Provides creaminess and richness to the polenta, enhancing its flavor and texture.
  • Cold water: Used in combination with milk to create the liquid base for cooking the polenta.
  • Instant polenta: The main ingredient for making polenta. Instant polenta cooks faster than regular polenta and is convenient for this recipe. You can usually find it in the international section of the grocery store, near the other Italian foods.
  • Butter: Adds richness and a creamy texture to the polenta.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano: A hard and flavorful cheese that provides a nutty and savory taste.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Add the cold milk, cold water, salt, and pepper to a medium pot. (Starting with cold milk and water reduces the chance of any lumps.)

seasoned milk and water in pot.

Turn the heat to medium-high and slowly whisk in the polenta. Allow the liquid to come to a boil, which will take 3 to 5 minutes, whisking every minute or so.

whisking polenta into milk mixture.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low so it begins to simmer. Cook uncovered, whisking regularly, for about 3 minutes, or until the polenta has become very creamy and thickened.

whisking polenta as it cooks.

Turn off the heat and add the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano (if using).

seasoning polenta with butter and cheese.

Stir until the butter and cheese have melted completely.

polenta in pot.

Serve immediately with a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, and more cheese, if desired.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use regular polenta instead of instant?

Yes, you can substitute regular cornmeal for instant polenta. However, regular cornmeal is coarser, so it’s a good idea to pulse it in a food processor to achieve a finer texture similar to instant polenta. Additionally, you you’ll have to increase the cooking time to 12 to 15 minutes.

How can I prevent lumps?

To prevent lumps when making polenta, it’s important to start with cold milk and water and then gradually whisk the polenta into boiling liquid while continuously stirring.

Can polenta be made ahead of time?

No, polenta is best served fresh and is best when enjoyed right after cooking.

What can I do with leftover polenta?

You can spread leftover polenta into an even layer, chill, and then slice it into squares or rounds and pan-fry or grill it for a crispy exterior and creamy interior. Top with sauce, cheese, or sautéed vegetables for a tasty appetizer or side dish. Polenta can also be baked with cheese and herbs for a savory casserole.

bowl of polenta with butter and parmesan cheese.

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Quick & Easy Polenta

Need an easy yet delicious side dish? Make a comforting bowl of creamy polenta in just ten minutes!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cold whole milk (see note)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup instant polenta (see note)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup (2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Add the cold milk, cold water, salt, and pepper to a medium pot. (Starting with cold milk and water reduces the chance of any lumps.) Turn the heat to medium-high and slowly whisk in the polenta. Allow the liquid to come to a boil, which will take 3 to 5 minutes, whisking every minute or so.
  2. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low so it begins to simmer. Cook uncovered, whisking regularly, for about 3 minutes, or until the polenta has become very creamy and thickened.
  3. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano (if using) until the butter and cheese have melted completely. Serve immediately with a pat of butter and more cheese, if desired.
  4. Note: If you don’t have whole milk (or don’t want to purchase a whole carton), feel free to use 2% or skim milk; simply replace the water in the recipe with more milk.
  5. Note: If your supermarket does not carry instant polenta, regular cornmeal can be used. Simply blend the cornmeal in a food processor until it is finely ground and increase the cooking time to 12 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 360
  • Fat: 18 g
  • Saturated fat: 11 g
  • Carbohydrates: 40 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 9 g
  • Sodium: 667 mg
  • Cholesterol: 49 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you’re following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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