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Polenta with lentils and cotechino
Type Porridge
Place of origin Northern Italy, France, Switzerland
Main ingredients Yellow or white cornmeal, liquid (water, soup stock)
Cookbook: Polenta 

Polenta (Italian pronunciation: ; polente or poleinte in France) is a Central European dish made by boiling cornmeal into a thick, solidified porridge,[1] and directly consumed afterwards or baked, fried or grilled. The term is of Latin origin, derived from the term for hulled and crushed grain (especially barley-meal). Its etymology derives from the same base as the word pollen.[2][1]


  • Description 1
  • Preparation 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Polenta served in the traditional manner on a round wooden cutting board

As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge), commonly eaten since Roman times. Before the introduction of corn (maize) from the New World in the 16th century,[3] polenta was made with such starchy ingredients as farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, and chickpeas.[4]

Polenta has a creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain. However, its consistency may not be completely homogeneous if a coarse grind or hard grain such as flint corn is used.

Historically, polenta was served as a peasant food in North America and Europe. The reliance on maize, which lacks readily accessible niacin unless cooked with alkali to release it, as a staple caused outbreaks of pellagra throughout the American South and much of Europe until the 20th century. In the 1940s and 1950s, polenta was often eaten with salted anchovy or herring, sometimes topped with sauces.


Polenta, by Pietro Longhi
During preparation, the polenta is stirred with a large wooden stick called a cannella (traditionally made of walnut) until it becomes thick enough to support the stirring rod on its own.
A modern shrimp dish that makes use of grilled polenta

Polenta is cooked by simmering in a water-based liquid, with other ingredients or eaten with them once cooked. It is often cooked in a large copper pot known in Lake Como. It can also be cooked with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, such as small songbirds in the case of the Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei. In some areas of Veneto, it can be also made of white cornmeal (mais biancoperla, then called polenta bianca). In some areas of Piedmont, it can be also made of potatoes instead of cornmeal (polenta bianca as well).In the westernmost alpine region the maize is sometimes added with local grains, barley and rye (polente bâtarde or polente barbare ), and often frichâ, toasted on a loza (thin refractory stone).

The variety of cereal used is usually yellow maize, but buckwheat, white maize, or mixtures thereof may be used. Coarse grinds make a firm, coarse polenta; finer grinds make a creamy, soft polenta.[5]

Polenta takes a lengthy amount of time to cook, typically simmering in four to five times its volume of watery liquid for about 45 minutes with near-constant stirring, necessary for even gelatinization of the starch. Some alternative cooking techniques are meant to speed up the process, or not to require supervision. Quick-cooking (cooked, instant) polenta is widely used and can be prepared in a few minutes; it is considered inferior to cooking polenta from unprocessed cornmeal and not ideal for eating unless baked or fried after simmering.[5] It is also possible to cook polenta in a pressure cooker.[6]

In his book Heat, Bill Buford talks about his experiences as a line cook in Mario Batali's Italian restaurant Babbo. Buford details the differences in taste between instant polenta and slow-cooked polenta, and describes a method of preparation that takes up to three hours, but does not require constant stirring: "polenta, for most of its cooking, is left unattended.... If you don't have to stir it all the time, you can cook it for hours—what does it matter, as long as you're nearby?"[7] Cook's Illustrated magazine has described a method using a microwave oven that reduces cooking time to 12 minutes and requires only a single stirring to prepare 3 ½ cups of cooked polenta, and in March 2010 presented a stovetop, near-stir-less method, using a pinch of baking soda (adding alkali), which replicates the traditional effect.[8][9][10] Kyle Phillips suggested making it in a polenta maker or in a slow cooker.[11]

Cooked polenta can be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks, and then fried in oil, baked, or grilled until golden brown; fried polenta is called crostini di polenta or polenta fritta.

See also


  1. ^ a b OED 2nd ed.: a. maize flour, especially as used in Northern Italian cookery. b. A paste or dough made from such meal, a dish made with this.
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Dubreuil, P.; et al. (2006). "More On The Introduction of Temperate Maize into Europe: Large-Scale Bulk SSR Genotyping and New Historical Elements" (PDF). Maydica 51: 281–291. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b "Polenta - How to Cook Polenta". Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  6. ^ hip pressure cooking. "Polenta Five Ways – Pressure Cooker Recipe & Technique with Variations". hip pressure cooking - pressure cooker recipes. Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  7. ^ Buford, Bill (2006). Heat. New York:  
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ "CI creamy polenta". Chowhound. Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  11. ^ Kyle Phillips. "Polenta: Making it at Home". Retrieved 28 January 2007. 


  • Giorgio V. Brandolini, Storia e gastronomia del mais e della patata nella Bergamasca, Orizzonte Terra, Bergamo, 2007. 32 pages.
  • Eynard, W., La Cucina Valdese, Claudiana, 2006.

External links

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