Well, winter never really made it here to Norcal, but there is nothing better on a foggy, rainy and/or chilly day than a bowl of polenta. And since we get plenty of fog, even in summer, polenta is a popular choice here at the farm. So popular, we didn’t think of it as something for the blog. But since Judy Rodgers passed, we think a lot about her and her polenta recipe. So we figured we would share.
The key to making polenta (cornmeal mush) is that it just isn’t all that hard. You don’t need any special technique and you don’t need to stir every second. You just need to be mindful and take your time. You will hear all sorts of polenta making
B.S. “advice” about stirring every second and how you drizzle the cornmeal, etc. Forget all that. Rodgers has you cook the polenta at low heat in a heavy-bottom pot, stir every few minutes to avoid scorching and hold in a double boiler to improve texture and allow quick service. And it works. We play frisbee and basketball with the kids while making this dish. We just duck in the kitchen every 5 minutes, give the pot a stir and then it is back to fun outside….nice.
The only real “challenge” here is how to add flavor to the polenta. Just butter and seasoning makes for a way better dish than you might expect. Parmesan and/or mascarpone cheese are common additions, and how Rodgers served it at Zuni. But we like to go a bit further and make polenta into a 1-dish meal. We like stirring in the parmesan, adding a soft-boiled egg, crumbled bacon and then topping with a bright salad of parsley or celery greens. Other good additions are braised greens, prosciutto, sautéed mushrooms, tomato jam and braised short ribs (yum).
And then we have the leftovers. Polenta sets in the fridge and then you can slice and fry it like french toast. This may be even better than the original dish and is perfect with just about any topping (but so good with a salad for a light lunch). So not only do you get one easy and tasty meal, you get 2 or 3. Delightful.
So if spring hasn’t sprung in your neck of the woods, or you just want a warm, tasty dish, try making polenta the Judy Rodgers way. It doesn’t get any better.
(Adapted from Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
Notes before you start:
- There are all sorts of “polenta” or cornmeal out there. We do suggest a “stone ground” cornmeal, but don’t break the bank. Old-school cornmeal in the box still works fine.
- The most important piece of gear here is the heavy-bottom pan. A heavy pan helps you avoid burning or scorching, spreads heat evenly and keeps you from constant stirring.
What you get: The definition of “comfort food”.
What you need: A heavy bottom pot and some time. A nice glass of red wine wouldn’t hurt either.
How Long? About an hour and a half. It is a very easy hour and a half.
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup polenta or cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Unsalted butter, to taste (optional, but good)
- Optional toppings: Parmesan cheese, mascarpone, bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, soft-boiled eggs, short ribs, sautéed mushrooms, braised or sautéed greens, tomato sauce or jam.
- Add the water to a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Whisk in the polenta. Heat the pot over medium heat until you reach a simmer, then lower the heat so the pot is just bubbling. Cook, uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring every few minutes, until the polenta is think but still fluid. Add a bit of water if the polenta gets too stiff. When done, add salt and butter to taste, if you like (we also like a grind of pepper)
- You can serve the polenta now. But it will be better if you transfer the polenta to a double boiler for at least 30 minutes. You can keep the polenta warm in the double boiler for hours (and for service over time). To avoid a skin forming on the polenta, tightly rap the bowl with plastic wrap.
- To serve, stir in parmesan cheese and then add any toppings you like.
Yes, yes, yes! Thanks for posting this. I’ve tried many methods and have never been completely satisfied. I even tried a crockpot version of polenta recently which I thought was very promising since I’m basically lazy…It didn’t work out well at all.
So back to the tried and true, and thanks for posting this. I’m excited to see how that 30 minutes in the double boiler works!
This recipe really does work (and with less stress). The double-boiler, while extra work, does make a difference. Hope you try it!
I’ve never tried polenta but I really want to. I’ve been a little intimidated by it but you make it sound pretty simple. I have to give this a try.
It is worth doing- so many great ways to enjoy the dish (inexpensive, too).
I enjoy polenta with nothing much added at all, and yet I rarely make it. I really like the idea of spiffying it up a bit! And the idea of frying it like french toast…I never thought of that. Now we’re talking! You’ve mentioned Judy and Zuni’s before, and I wish I had known of her while she was a part of your community. It sounds like her cookbook might be a good investment!
Frying slices of leftover polenta (non-stick pan is best here) is a real treat. Worth trying.
As for the cookbook, it can be a bit dense and detailed, but the recipes and theory are spot-on. And quite a few of the recipes are simply perfect. It is a timeless book. We would certainly recommend it.
Yum! Polenta is one of my favorite comfort foods, but I rarely make this dish at home. This recipe looks like a sure thing; I’m excited to try it!
Thanks- hope you enjoy it!
Sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to give this a try!
Despite the fact that my husband loves all things corn (cornbread, corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn fritters, corn chowder), I have never tried polenta. Now that I see how non-fussy it can be, I might give it a go. Thanks!
It is good fun and very tasty…worth a try is you have the time…
I agree! Polenta is so easy, I’ve taught it to young kids! Beautiful.
This looks gorgeous… Wha ta comforting meal. Short Ribs atop would be SUCH a treat, especially if greens were included. Really a great recipe and lovely photos. The suggestion of the red wine? Yes, please!
That looks wonderful and I love polenta! You are so right, it needn’t be complicated!
Thanks- it is a nice dish to revisit from time to time…..sometimes simple is best…
Ah, grits. How I love them, no matter the name!
This looks wonderful.
Yup- just as happy serving grits…and if they come with shrimp, that’s what we call them…
This looks perfect for the cold, rainy day we are having today. I love the idea of adding butter and Parmesan. Warm, rich and comforting. Thanks for the recipe!
Thanks for the visit!
Delicious recipes, I can’t wait to try.
I just ate polenta last night with a pot roast and for breakfast with bacon, eggs and fried avocado. I LOVE polenta- creamy, fried, any which way!
Thanks…fried avocado? Any detail you want to share on that? Sounds great…
I love this! I have lots of local polenta in the pantry and you’ve got some great ideas!