5 Unexpected Ways to Make Your Polenta Better

August 13, 2014

This post was brought to you by our friends at S.Pellegrino, who are as passionate about celebrating fine food as we are.

Polenta, sometimes referred to as "Italian grits," most often serves as a trusty sidekick to spotlight-stealing protein, or sits smothered under tomato sauce and cheese. Make no mistake -- it's delicious in both contexts, but this classic cornmeal dish is far more versatile than tradition suggests. Here are our five favorite ways to give polenta a long-overdue chance to shine. 

1. Sweeten it with fruit and honey. Start your day with this just-sweet-enough breakfast polenta recipe, studded with fresh summer blueberries and drizzled with honey. (Your oatmeal will be jealous.) Take sweet even further by using polenta in cookies or a cake. Or, you know, have more breakfast polenta after dinner.  

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Blueberry Breakfast Polenta

2. Fortify your base. Polenta is usually made with water or milk, which results in a more neutral flavor. Next time you make it, try using a liquid with a little more personality: stock, either vegetable or otherwise, and coconut milk will both add depth to the final dish.

Polenta Facile

3. When in doubt, put an egg on it. If food trends in recent years have taught us anything, it's that most food items -- burgers, stir-fry, pizzas, fried rice -- are only improved by a beautiful, sunny-side-up egg. Polenta is no exception. We especially like it as a base for wilted escarole and olive oil-fried eggs

More: Learn everything you've ever wanted and needed to know about corn. 

4. Square things off. Polenta's texture stands up well to grilling, griddling, or broiling, especially when you make it into beautifully cut squares (or circles). Bonus points for super-crispy edges; extra bonus points for topping them with a savory sun-dried tomato and walnut tapenade.  

Broiled Polenta Cubes

5. Use fresh corn. It's corn season, after all, and your farmers market haul is begging to be turned into creamy, delicious polenta. If that's not enough of an incentive, this amazing recipe from Yottam Ottolenghi should be. 

Yotam Ottolenghi

Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta 

Serves 3 to 4

4 cups milk
3/4 cups quick-cook polenta
1/2 cup almond meal
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup honey
1 cup blueberries
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinches of cardamom (up to 1/4 teaspoon)
Crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

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This post was brought to you by S.Pellegrino; the dish above was inspired by their Off the Menu culinary experience.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cucina di mammina
    cucina di mammina
  • AntoniaJames
I'm a former Food52 Julia Child Food Writing Fellow now studying law so I can make food fairer, more delicious, and more sustainable for everyone. I was born and raised in Montreal (mostly on poutine and matzoh ball soup), but in my heart I am an Italian grandma—I live on pizza and make a mean eggplant parmesan.


cucina D. August 13, 2014
i have been making polenta since my grandmother showed me her classic method with fresh cow's milk from her farm and lots of cheese for flavor. My own version is always using my homemade stocks (chicken, fish or beef) depending on the season and what protein we are serving. The flavors are wonderful and one of my ultimate favorites is using a mushroom stock and serving it with grilled mushrooms and vegetables. delicious.
AntoniaJames August 13, 2014
I'd add to point #2, cooking with whey from Jennifer Perillo's homemade ricotta (recipe is here). An actual recipe for the polenta itself is here: Also, although many recipes don't mention this, polenta turns out much, much better if you cover the pan tightly immediately after you think it's done, and let it sit in its own steam, ideally in a double boiler (which I use anyway because it's impossible to scorch it that way) for at least 30 minutes before doing anything with it. That allows the polenta to swell up, making it light and more flavorful. I believe I picked that trick up from the Judy Rodgers "Zuni Cafe Cookbook." ;o)
cucina D. August 13, 2014
love the tips, AntoniaJames... my mammina and grandmother did the exact same thing by covering the cooked polenta for a period of time before serving, it's creamier and fluffier for sure :) grazie!