Most people consider polenta a restaurant food. That’s because as good as this creamy, cheesy Italian staple is, few of us have the hour needed to crank it out.
But hidden on the grocer’s shelves is a shortcut that can help get polenta on your dinner table any day of the week in minutes — prepared polenta. This is different, and far better than, a related product known as instant polenta. But first, some polenta basics.
Polenta is a traditional starch in Italian cooking, an alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes that pairs deliciously well with robust sauces and meats. Polenta is made by slowly simmering and stirring cornmeal with chicken broth or water. It usually also is seasoned with Parmesan cheese and butter.
Freshly made, polenta resembles a thick porridge. This variety often is topped with thick sauces, especially meaty ones. But if you let the polenta set up or chill a bit it becomes firm enough to cut into grill-worthy slabs or wedges. The trouble is the slowly simmering and stirring part of making it.
While there is a dry product called instant polenta (just add water!) that promises results in five minutes or less, it tends to be grainy and flavorless. The better choice is tube-style pre-cooked polenta, usually sold in the grocer’s natural foods section. This product is ready to slice and toss on the grill, under the broiler or into a skillet to pan-fry.
It also can be reconstituted to its soft (porridge-like) form by heating it with a bit of liquid, such as milk or broth.