5 Delicious Ways to Enjoy Polenta

Watching your carbs? Here’s a healthy whole grain you may not have considered for dinnertime.

September 7, 2009

Versatile polenta tastes great, even served simply with some cheese and greens.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You may have used cornmeal to make cornbread, or maybe pancakes, but have you tried using it to make polenta? You should. Polenta is cornmeal simmered in water or broth to create a thick, porridge-like, creamy mixture. The result is incredibly versatile, and makes a great alternative to pasta or mashed potatoes. When making polenta, you can choose between yellow and white cornmeal, and either a fine, medium, or coarse-ground texture. The more finely ground the cornmeal, the creamier your cooked polenta will be. Try to find stone-ground whole grain cornmeal for your polenta recipes; it contains the entire grain of corn. If possible, avoid degerminated cornmeal; the process, which strips the grain of its germ layer, renders the cornmeal less nutritious.


You don't have to do much to polenta to enjoy it. Hot off the stovetop, freshly prepared polenta tastes great with just a bit of butter, or with a strong cheese like Parmesan or gorgonzola stirred into it, or topped with a meat or mushroom ragout. You can layer it into casseroles or lasagna-style dishes. Or spread it into a lightly greased, shallow pan and let it cool; once it firms up, polenta’s perfect for cutting into squares and sautéing or grilling. Pressed for time? Most grocery stores carry tubes of precooked polenta that you can slice and fry up in no time.
Whole grain polenta is a great source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and thiamin. It’s a lower-calorie and lower-carb option than white pasta, and you can keep calories low by adding rich additions like butter and cheese judiciously. Top it with a flavorful sauce that’s heavy on the vegetables to keep things balanced, nutritious, and filling. The Rodale Recipe Finder has plenty of delicious, healthy polenta recipes that are bound to satisfy both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Here are some options to start with:

#1: Italian Vegetable Stir-Fry over Polenta. Sautéed fennel, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, and red pepper are complemented by protein-packed chickpeas in this complete meal, set atop a bed of polenta.

#2: Capo Polenta. This savory dish can serve as dinner or as an appetizer, and since you’re starting with prepared eggplant caponata and precooked polenta, it couldn’t be easier to put together.

#3: Polenta with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms. You won’t miss the meat in this dish that features hearty mushrooms and sweet, caramelized onions served on cheesy polenta.

#4: Polenta with Fresh Tomato Sauce. Plum tomatoes are the star of this simple sauce; vegans can omit the cheese while preparing the polenta. Storage tip: Keep whole grain cornmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Store it in the freezer to keep it fresh even longer.

#5: Italian Turkey Casserole. This layered dish lends itself to variations—cooked chicken can be subbed for turkey, and hot Italian sausage is an optional addition. Use chicken or turkey sausage to lower the fat content.

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