How to Cook Polenta

June 11, 2024
by HelloFresh How to cook

    If you’ve ever seen polenta topped with slow-cooked Italian sauces, tucked into a slice of orange polenta cake, or snacked on a crunchy polenta chip, you’ve probably come away wondering – what exactly is polenta?

    This guide will answer all of your questions about polenta and provide guidance on how to add it to your meal plan and cook this tasty ingredient at home.

    What is polenta?

    Polenta is a dish commonly cooked in Italian cuisine recipes. Often referred to as the ‘ultimate Italian comfort food’, with one taste of simmered hot polenta on a cold day, it’s easy to see why. Polenta is used in both sweet and savoury dishes and can be used as a gluten-free alternative to flour. It adds moisture and flavour to cakes and puddings, but it also makes a great breadcrumb substitute for crusts.

    What is polenta made from?

    Polenta is made from finely ground corn, which is sometimes referred to as cornmeal (cornmeal is how it’s typically referred to in the USA). The ‘corn’ is yellow maize, although polenta can also be made with white maize. It’s not quite a grain, but it can be used as a rich and tasty base for dishes in the same way. It has a bright yellow colour with a slightly sweet taste and comes in a variety of grades, ranging from coarse to fine in texture, depending on what you’re using it for in your dish.

    How to make polenta

    There are a couple of ways to cook polenta, as well as making instant polenta, ready-made polenta or quick-cook polenta, if you don’t fancy standing over a pan. However, the most common way to cook polenta is as follows: 

    1. Measure out 1 part polenta to 5 parts of water (for example, 100g of dried polenta to 500 ml of water).
    2. Place the water in a pan with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
    3. Add the polenta to the water once boiling. 
    4. Keep stirring the polenta throughout (not constantly, but every couple of minutes). This will help it evenly absorb the water and stop it from sticking to the pan. 
    5. Cook the polenta for 45-50 minutes or until it’s soft and smooth and all the water is absorbed. If you do a quick taste test, you shouldn’t be able to detect any crunchy uncooked polenta grains. If some still remain, add a little more water and keep cooking. The ideal texture for polenta should be soft but not runny, similar to scrambled egg or cake batter.
    6. Finish with some butter and cheese, and serve.

    All cooking appliances vary. These are guidelines only. Ensure the food is piping hot before serving. Do not reheat.

    How to make polenta cake

    Polenta cake is a deliciously moist dessert, best enjoyed while still slightly warm and with a dollop of crème fraîche. Below are steps to make a traditional orange polenta cake. 

    For this recipe, you will need a 20 cm round tin with a loose bottom. 

    Ingredients: 

    • 250g unsalted, softened butter 
    • 250g golden caster sugar 
    • 4 medium eggs
    • 140g fine yellow polenta 
    • 200g self-raising flour 
    • Zest and juice of two large oranges 
    1. Start off by zesting and juicing the oranges, then set them aside for later.
    2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) or gas mark 3. 
    3. Beat together the butter and golden caster sugar until fluffy and pale. 
    4. Add one egg at a time to the mixture, beating in until fully incorporated. 
    5. Sift the flour and fold in gently. 
    6. Add the polenta, orange zest and juice, folding into the batter so it’s evenly spread through. 
    7. Place in your greased and lined baking tin, and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean with a few crumbs.
    8. Turn the cake out onto a wire cooling rack and let it cool down. 

    Bonus: You could whip up a quick orange syrup to drizzle over the cake if desired. Simply mix orange juice and icing sugar together until you have a soft, dripping consistency, then swirl over the cake for an extra burst of sweetness.

    How to make polenta chips

    Polenta chips, also known as polenta fries, are a perfect side dish for pairing with various small plates or dips. These delicious dippers are crispy on the outside but sticky and savoury on the inside.

    Ingredients: 

    • 250g quick-cook polenta 
    • 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock 
    • 50g parmesan cheese 
    • 50g butter 
    • Dried herbs (such as thyme, chives or parsley) 
    • Salt 
    • Olive oil
    1. Prepare the quick-cook polenta with the stock. Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. 
    2. Stir through the parmesan cheese, dried herbs and butter.
    3. Transfer to a square baking tin and let the polenta cool and set (approximately 2 hours in the fridge). 
    4. Remove from the tin and cut into chips (to your preferred size and thickness).
    5. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. You can then either shallow fry them for extra crispy edges or bake them in the oven at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

    What to serve with polenta

    Traditional polenta is typically enjoyed with generous amounts of butter and cheese, but it also pairs well with saucy dishes. Try polenta with these HelloFresh recipes by swapping out the mash or couscous.


    All food products vary. The instructions printed on the food packaging always supersedes those printed in this article and must always be followed.
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