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Creamy Polenta with Savory Sauces

6 Servings

1-¾ hours 10 minutes active

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Polenta, a cornmeal porridge, can be a disappointment in the U.S., often weighed down with cheese and fat. Not to mention all that whisking. But in Italy we found a better way to make polenta with no cheese, no butter, and not much stirring. Coarse cornmeal is sprinkled into a generous amount of boiling salted water, stirred vigorously for 10 minutes, covered and left for about an hour. One more vigorous stir and it's done. The porridge is light and fresh and the corn really shines through. We followed that lead, using more water than called for in conventional recipes, but found that combining the cornmeal with cold, not boiling, water, then bringing the entire pot to a simmer, prevented clumping. We finished cooking the polenta in the oven rather than the stovetop which gave us more consistent, gentle heat. For the best flavor and texture, use coarse stoneground cornmeal; fine cornmeal produced pasty, gluey polenta, while steel-ground cornmeal had less flavor. We liked Bob’s Red Mill coarse-grind cornmeal and its polenta corn grits, but found that different brands can cook up with slightly different consistencies. The finished polenta should be pourable; if it’s too thick, thin it with water as needed. This polenta is perfect side to braises, such as Tuscan beef and black pepper stew. It can also be paired with a flavorful sauces.




Don’t use white cornmeal. Its flavor is milder than yellow cornmeal. (In Italy, it is used mostly for sweet preparations.) And don’t skip the whisk for stirring the polenta as it cooks; its wires are more effective than a wooden spoon for breaking up lumps.

1-¾ hours

10 minutes active


  • 2

    cups coarse stone-ground yellow cornmeal (see note)

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper


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Emily Z.

The texture described in the recipe seems very different from the texture in the image. How would you recommend achieving the firmer texture that would allow the polenta to be cut into squares?

April D.

Emily - this is a good observation. We will be updating the photo on this recipe soon. A better visual reference for the polenta recipe given here is our Soft Polenta:
If you want to make squares of polenta (like the one in this current photo), you'll want to follow the steps on our Fried Polenta recipe:
I hope that helps, and thank you for noting this - we will get it updated soon!


Terese M.

The picture shows a firm square, but the recipe is for a porridge. Do you have steps for taking it from porridge to a sliceable polenta?

Lynn C.

Hi Terese -

You're right. This should link to our Fried Polenta recipe, which you can find here - We will update this right away. Thanks for pointing this out to us!

The Milk Street Team