Cooking polenta the traditional way will lock you down for the better part of an hour, standing and stirring and pawing at the film on the bottom of the pot, trying to keep it from scorching and adhering there forever. This simple make-ahead method shaves of at least 2/3 of the active cooking time, so that you can get creamy, no-sacrifice polenta on the table on a weeknight in 15 minutes. Adapted slightly from Simply Ancient Grains. —Genius Recipes
(11 ounces) polenta, preferably medium-grind, not instant or quick-cooking
low-sodium chicken broth or water, or more as needed
fine sea salt
(2 ounces) finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Start the polenta at least 8 hours ahead: Add the polenta to a 4-quart heavy saucepan and whisk in the boiling water. Cover and let sit at room temperature for up to 12 hours. (If not using at this point, chill, covered, for up to 2 days.)
When you are ready to cook the polenta, add the broth and the salt to the saucepan and whisk well to loosen the polenta, breaking up any clumps. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Cook, whisking continuously and adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle bubble until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes (beware of splatters!).
Decrease the heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes, and scraping the bottom until the polenta becomes creamy and thick, 10 to 12 minutes. The polenta granules will swell and become tender, and the polenta should retain an appealing toothsomeness.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, Parmesan, and pepper. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at once, passing more cheese around.
Fine points: This recipe makes a polenta on the firmer side. You can add a bit more broth or water before you add the butter for a softer, more billowy polenta. Polenta can be kept soft in a crockpot, using the "Warm" setting.
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.