Polenta, Basic Recipe
    Polenta with Butter and Parmigiana
   Parmigiana Polenta topped with Shrimp Scampi

To say Polenta is a staple in Italy’s Northeast most region, Veneto Friuli Venezia Giulia which boarders on Austria, Slovenia (former Yugoslavia), and the Adriatic Sea might not be descriptive enough. Polenta is so important that families were known to gather around their fireplaces nightly for warmth while they prepare polenta in a special pot, called paiolo, over an open flame.  The pot conveniently resided by the fireplace.

The odd shaped pot is praised for its design, allegedly its ability to minimize lumps. It’s also why traditional Italian cooks still only recommend the use of long wooden spoons since they are what was used to cook polenta in paiolo without scratching its copper.

At a time when flour was only affordable for the elite, milled corn cooked with only water and salt was a substitute. Polenta was not only served as a starter but as a side dish. Leftovers flattened, sliced, and fried, served as a bread. Polenta was used as an add-on to stretch meals. Among the many applications, polenta would also be mounded, crater formed, and filled with meals, poultry, and sauces.

Mom Lucia would make her polenta and place it in the center of her large wooden board usually reserved to make her homemade pasta, ravioli, and bread. She would fill its crater with her Hunter’s Stew, Chicken or Rabbit Cacciatori. We would sit around the board, slide our portions over, and eat directly off the board. Now that’s Italian; so blessed with the memories!

Basic preparation, Polenta is simply corn meal simmered in salted water (or another liquid) until water is absorbed and the cornmeal thickens.

Cornmeal: I prefer course stone ground yellow cornmeal for its heavier texture, bold flavors, and reliability. I especially like Bob's Red Mill® Coarse whole grain and stone stoneground cornmeal. I enjoy my polenta a little more rustic with a bite like properly cooked pasta and risotto. If you simply prefer or have an application that would benefit from a lighter and fluffier polenta, I recommend Bob's Red Mill® POLANTA ORGANIC CORN GRITS. It’s partially de-germinated (not whole grain) and medium ground. It will also cook a little faster.

I’m not a fan of finer grinds. I think polenta results in less character and is somewhat pasty.

Water Ratio: I like 3 to 1 ratio, water to cornmeal. However, I usually simmer extra water and reserve after heating if needed. Using 2 cups of cornmeal, I simmer 7 cups, remove and set aside the extra cup if needed.

Salt: tablespoon Kosher salt. Techniques: Some feel challenged, trying to eliminate lumps and complain about having to continuously stir a long time. Right techniques help.

Eliminating lumps, once simmering, lower heat to a low simmer. Slowly drizzle cornmeal into water while continuously stirring with a wooden spoon. Shaking and stirring at the same time can be a little cumbersome.

My favorite technique is to place about a cup of cornmeal at a time in a small light plastic bowl. Tilt and tap bowl with the wooden spoon each couple of turns releasing a controlled thin veil of cornmeal grains into water. Stir and tap again and again until all cornmeal is added.

Stir continuously until ready. Add more water if needed. This slower method seems to be less tedious and cooks quicker.

Concave Shape:  Easiest way to create a bowl shape is with a spoon.  Level polenta and use the bottom of a wet spoon.   

Polenta, Basic Recipe
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 cups course stoneground cornmeal

Mix water and salt in a pot. Bring to a simmer. Lower heat to maintain a slow simmer. Reserve about a half cup of water.

Place cornmeal in a small light bowl.

Tip bowl over water just enough to release a small veil of grains when tapped with a wooden spoon (see picture above).

Stir until cornmeal thickens and pulls away from pot when stirring. If needed add remaining water.

Serve immediately or if used it as a base for recipes requiring polenta, keep warm. My very favorite is next, the way I mostly serve polenta.

Serve 4 to 6

Polenta with Butter and Parmigiana
So simple and so delicious

  • Prepared polenta made with 2 cups of cornmeal (above)
  • ¼ pound unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons quality grated parmigiana cheese
  • 1/2 cup hot water if needed
Melt butter in a pot over lower heat. Stir in Polenta, parmigiana and some water to thin slightly if need.

Serves 4 to 6

Parmigiana Polenta topped with Shrimp Scampi
This is an Italian version of the south’s famous Shrimp with Cheesy Grits.

Grits are replaced with hardy Italian polenta made with coarse stoneground yellow corn finished with butter and parmigiana.

Scampi, shrimp is simply tossed and quick broiled with minced garlic and scallions, butter and olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. Polenta is plated and topped with delicious scampi, shrimp and sauce.

Recipe serves 4
Polenta with Butter and Parmigiana
  • follow recipe above, but reduce butter to 4 tablespoons
  • 1 1/2-pounds large or extra-large wild-caught shrimp
  • 1 quarter pound of butter, one stick
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic Few grinds each of salt and pepper
  • garnish with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, serve with  Lemon quarters
Remove shrimp shells and devein. Rinse in cold water and pat dry. Set them aside.

In a pot, large enough to comfortably hold all the shrimp and sauce, melt the butter over low heat. Add olive oil lemon juice, scallions, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cool to warm or room temperature.

Pre-heat the broiler.

Toss the shrimp in the sauce. Place shrimp in a rimmed cookie sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Pour scampi sauce and solids over the shrimp.

When polenta is near ready, broil shrimp close to the heat until the tops are pink but not cooked through, about three minutes. Flip shrimp and broil briefly, until just cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.

Add polenta to each plate. Divide scampi, shrimp and sauce, over polenta.

Optional, garnish with parsley, serve with lemon quarters.