Forget endless whisking. For creamier, easier polenta that lets the flavor of the corn shine, all you need is an oven and a couple vigorous stirs, Milk Street Editorial Director J.M. Hirsch discovered in the tiny, Northern Italian hilltop village of Cossano Belbo. There, Maria Teresa Marino, whose family owns a centuries-old grain mill, challenged the heavy, and heavy-handed, polenta we see all to often here at home. She showed us that the secret to fluffy polenta lies not so much in what you put in, but what you leave out. Good polenta cooks itself, she claimed. And she was right.
Instead of constant stirring, a quick, vigorous initial stir—always with a whisk, not a spoon—quickly releases enough starch from the corn that little stirring is needed after that. Then the grains should cook low and slow—no supervision needed. Using coarse cornmeal—less likely to turn gummy when cooked and more flavorful because it retains some of the germ and bran of the kernels—also is key.
At Milk Street, we found the best way to ensure a steady, reliable low heat was to cook the polenta in the oven. As for stirring, all that’s needed is an initial stir on the stovetop and a final one at the end. The results were so light and satisfying that we added no butter and no cheese, either.
This lesson on polenta is just number 13 on a list of 75 clever cooking tips—and the recipes to go along—that will change the way you cook. With the freedom to walk away from your pot of polenta as it cooks, you'll have ample time to cook through at least one more new rule.