5 Ingredients or Fewer

Maria Speck's Shortcut Polenta

January 13, 2016
4 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 2 cups (11 ounces) polenta, preferably medium-grind, not instant or quick-cooking
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. 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.)
  2. 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!).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Mirta Gianola Fratnik
    Mirta Gianola Fratnik
  • Scribbles
  • Leslie
  • Michelle de Lima
    Michelle de Lima
  • Windischgirl
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

31 Reviews

Myrna N. October 24, 2019
This may not be the authentic method for Italian polenta, but cornmeal is also a pretty common dish in Ukrainian cooking. I make it a lot, and it always turns out great — in about 15 minutes start to finish. The secret to it not burning is a heavy-bottomed pot and low heat. Once you get the water boiling on higher heat, add salt, and whisk in the cornmeal, then turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Just whisk or stir once in a while to keep it from sticking to the bottom and to prevent any lumps from forming. At the end, when it's at the thickness you like, add a bit of butter to bind it and season with a bit more salt and pepper. I use about a 1 to 4 ratio of cornmeal to water. For one, about 1/4 cup cornmeal to 1 cup cold water. (Parm regg is another great addition.) My preference is an Italian coarse-grain cornmeal.
Myrna N. October 24, 2019
I should have specified that this recipe is not done with instant cornmeal.
Mirta G. October 4, 2019
as someone raised in northern Italy with polenta as dinner and then breakfasts that become lunches and then dinner again: if you cook polenta in a copper pot you polenta won't stick to the pot but create a nachos like a crost. Just so you know you should never stir polenta, fold it, the bottom of it folded to the top.
Merry October 24, 2018
Happy to see the oven method mentioned - we've been using that version from one of Paula Wolfert's cookbooks for years and we love it. Polenta or grits - both work beautifully.
Lilia T. January 24, 2018
Will this method also work with Grits?
Lynda W. January 24, 2018
Yes, it will! I always soak grits overnight before using for breakfast. I then break up as she suggests, add more water if necessary and some butter, and cook while preparing breakfast, until tender and creamy. The very best way, I have done this for decades.
SA S. December 17, 2017
Planning ahead is essential, but this is the absolute best/easiest recipe for perfect polenta I've tried since I've been cooking; and I'm 70. Used my water-less cookware from 50 years ago, 3 C water to 2 C polenta, let it soak, covered, overnight. Added 2 C hot water in morn, covered and let sit on the electric warming burner, stirred occasionally and added water/broth as needed for desired consistency. In a couple hours, it was perfect. Added a 1/2 C or so of Gruyere cheese and a bit of truffle oil and yum! I could eat the whole recipes, but have to save some for guests.
June September 24, 2017
Confused about starting eight hours in advance...first step is soak twelve hours? Eager to try this and or methods described below. I have yet to make polenta without burning myself!
June September 24, 2017
Confused about starting eight hours in advance...first step is soak twelve hours? Eager to try this and or methods described below. I have yet to make polenta without burning myself!
souptastic January 19, 2016
I make it in my rice maker on the porridge setting - perfect and will keep it warm for hours.
GoodFoodie January 20, 2016
Did you use the same amount of liquid for the rice cooker?
souptastic January 20, 2016
I use the rice maker measuring cup and liquid marking levels on the rice maker insert, as you would for making rice (I have a fuzzy logic rice maker with a porridge setting, so it has the porridge markings on it). Not sure if they are the same as the stovetop proportions, but I would that they are the same or close. Great with some milk substituted for 1/2 the water if you eat dairy.
SueJeanne K. January 18, 2016
I tried this recipe with Indian Head Cornmeal, and the result came out more like smooth grits rather than polenta. Is there a specific polenta/cornmeal that people have used to good results with this recipe, so that it turned out as the recipe described?
Michelle D. January 20, 2016
Cornmeal is typically much more finely ground than polenta. If you can't find something labelled polenta, look for coarse ground cornmeal.
Scribbles January 18, 2016
I love that such a simple dish can have so much discussion and dissension.....
monsan January 17, 2016
The back of my Golden Pheasant polenta has instructions for 8-minute microwave polenta . . which I THEN put in the slow cooker, usually 3-4 hrs . . with the addition of chicken stock, butter & parm, it comes out great . .
Tom January 17, 2016
I found a this recipe a few months ago (I don't remember where). Easiest and best I've made.

350° oven. 4 parts polenta one part water, salt and pepper. Whisk together place in oven uncovered for 40 minutes. Add some butter and some Parmesan cheese - put back in for about 10 minutes.
Windischgirl January 17, 2016
Tom, I'm confused by the proportions. 4 parts polenta to 1 part water would barely moisten it...am I missing something?
Tom January 17, 2016
Oops - 1 part polenta to 4 water
theresa C. January 17, 2016
Will try your way, much easier and "safe".
Marion B. January 18, 2016
Try Tom's way. You will like it. This is the ratio Cooks Illustrated recommends for baked polenta. I use 2 cups polenta, 8 cups water and 2tsp salt in a 9x13" baking dish. Bake at 375 for 50 min, then stir in 4tbsp butter and a cup of Parmesan. I serve it soft right out of the oven, then chill it and cut it into squares which I bake at 425 for about 15 min. Before baking brush a little olive oil on the tip of the squares and sprinkle with some additional Parm.
tammany March 2, 2016
FF below has this coming from Bento Mama but I know the recipe from Russ Parsons late of the LA Times who got it from the back of the Golden Pheasant box. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/18/food/la-fo-calcookrec18a-2010feb18
Juanita G. August 22, 2019
Loved how easy this was - was a bit worried it might boil over but tried anyway in square casserole 8x8
ff January 17, 2016
Or bake it:


Takes time in the oven, but no attention.
Lyn January 17, 2016
Does it work the same with grits?
Alice R. March 6, 2016
It should - after all, it's really the same thing. I"m going to try it.
Leslie January 17, 2016
The recipe calls for "2 cups polenta (11 ounces)" - I'm confused.. is it 16 ounces (2 cups) or 11 ounces?
alexkeywest January 17, 2016
11 ounces is weight. 16 ounces is volume. Same word but measuring different things. With water weight and volume are equal
alexkeywest January 17, 2016
The technique of a long soak works equally well with steel cut oats. Over night in 2/3 of the hot liquid. Finish in the morning with the balance.
Brandy S. January 17, 2016
I put my cooked polenta in a pie dish and refrigerate long enough to set until its very firm. I then cut it into 8 triangles which i warm and brown in a skillet with a touch of olive oil when ready to serve. would polenta cooked this way firm up like this after being finished with the cheese and butter?
heatheranne January 15, 2016
I do polenta the Marcella Hazan short cut way. Add polenta to boiling water, Stir until starts to thicken, turn down the heat, put on the lid. Stir occasionally. It will stick to the bottom, but if you use an enameled dutch oven, it's easy to clean (just soak and it should come off). My northern Italian boyfriend has never complained once about the polenta.